District Attorney Julia Slater asks Columbus Council for more workers to handle heavy caseload

District Attorney Julia Slater asked Columbus Council Tuesday to consider adding three positions to her office in the fiscal year 2013 city budget to accommodate an increased caseload caused by the addition of 100 police officers.

The positions -- an assistant district attorney, an investigator and a legal administrative clerk -- would add about $109,000 to the city’s budget, which council is assessing as the budget review committee.

"My staff is stretched just as thin as they can go,” Slater told councilors. “They work early mornings, they work late nights, they work weekends. They’re as hard-working as you can get. Simply put, they’re running out of hours in the day."

Slater said an ideal caseload for an [assistant district attorney is about 200 cases per year. Her assistants handle more than 250 annually, which limits the time they can spend on each case.

"Imagine you’re the victim of a burglary. Your house has been broken into, perhaps when you are home, and you’re one of those 250 new cases every year that one assistant district attorney is trying to manage,” Slater said. “It’s overwhelming."

Slater pointed out that a grand jury in February recommended that her office be given two new assistant district attorney positions, an investigator and a clerk. Her office has 21 assistant district attorneys and nine investigators.

Mayor Teresa Tomlinson, who could not find the money for the positions in her proposed budget, said she encouraged Slater to present her case to councilors.

"When the district attorney, who works there every day and looks at their caseloads every day, tells me that it is a direct result of the 100 police officers, I don’t know anyone who could refute that,” Tomlinson said. “I take her at her word on that. Now, it’s up to council to determine philosophically whether it’s a good use for the Other Lost funds."

There was some disagreement among councilors Tuesday over how far afield the public safety portion of the Other Lost, which is divided 70-30 between public safety and infrastructure, can be spent. Tomlinson said she thinks the district attorney’s office is a logical use for the public safety funds.

"You can round up all the alleged criminals you want to, but if you can’t take them through the justice system and convict those who can be justifiably convicted of a crime, then you’re not following through on the law enforcement needs of your community,” she said.

Budget Review Committee Chairman Skip Henderson said he thinks the district attorney’s office “is one of the areas where the Other Local Option Sales Tax should be applied,” and asked Slater to email more information to councilors so they can further consider her request.