Tuesday, April 16, 2002
Economic Slowdown Brings Tight Budget Proposal for County Law Agencies
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The county’s law and justice agencies would have to make do without budget increases, and the Sheriff’s Department would face huge cuts, under a recession-year proposal unveiled yesterday by Los Angeles County Chief Administrative Officer David Janssen.
Reflecting a national and local economic slow-down already under way when terrorists struck in New York and Washington, D.C., on Sept. 11, Janssen proposed a $13.35 billion budget for the nation’s largest county for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The figure represents a 1.3 percent decline over the current year’s budget.
The District Attorney’s Office, with a proposed budget of $123.8 million, stands to lose 70 positions and $8.1 million, reflecting a loss in reimbursable revenue from various state and local programs. But the loss is offset by 13 new positions funded by a grant for an Automobile Insurance Fraud Program.
District attorney officials declined comment on the budget proposal, which is to be presented to county supervisors at their meeting today.
Assistant Public Defender Robert Kalunian said the $120.2 million in county money proposed for his department, plus $3.98 million in revenue from other sources such as court fees and costs, was too little to keep pace with rising demands because of court unification, Proposition 36, and the expected opening later this year of the Chatsworth courthouse.
“The CAO’s budget does not meet some of our critical needs for next year,” Kalunian said. “We most likely will not be able to handle all of our cases next year.”
More lawyers must be hired because courthouses that formerly handled only misdemeanors now handle felonies because of unification, he said, and deputy public defenders who now staff the Norwalk courthouse must scramble to Alhambra when they are needed there, or else declare themselves unavailable.
When Chatsworth opens, Kalunian said, lawyers in the San Fernando courthouse will have to do the same thing.
Proposition 36, the drug court initiative, boosts the number of court appearances a program participant must make in order to establish eligibility for diversion and to stay in the program, he said.
Kalunian said his office also wanted 12 additional investigators, but got none.
“And these are just our critical needs,” he said.
Alternate Public Defender Janice Fukai echoed Kalunian’s remarks saying her office “did not get the things we asked for.”
The office would get $30.6 million in county funding, an increase that covers negotiated pay raises for employees. But like the public defender, Fukai said, her office may have to declare “unavailability,” leaving the county to pay for costs under the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Indigent Criminal Defense Appointments program.
The County Counsel’s Office would see a budget cut of $3.3 million to $123.7 million. The figures represent a decrease in 70 vacant positions but an increase in employee pay and benefits.
Bailiff services provided by the Sheriff’s Department would be unchanged, since they are offered under a contract with the Superior Court, which gets most of its budget from the state through the Judicial Council.
But sheriff’s Chief Marvin Dixon said the rest of his department would be in big trouble under the budget proposal, which fails to meet what he claimed was a $40 million gap that supervisors did not fill last year, while adding another cut of $46.9 million.
He said the cuts could only come from crime prevention and patrol in unincorporated county areas.
“It’s a recipe for disaster,” he said.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company