State Attorney’s Office Lays Off 4 Lawyers, 1 Secretary
The State Attorney’s Office laid off four attorneys and one secretary today as a result of legislative budget cuts, and two other departments in the 10th Judicial Circuit are also expected to make numerous cuts.
In addition to the State Attorney’s Office, the public defender’s and the court administrative offices are facing budget cuts, to be made in time for the new fiscal year beginning July 1. It has not yet been determined exactly how many more people will lose their jobs, said court administrator Nick Sudzina. Two people may be cut from both the case management and administrative staff, he said.
The cuts are because of declining revenues and are to be implemented throughout the state, he said.
Officials say the cuts will greatly affect the judicial process in Polk County. “The system can’t function if it doesn’t have the resources to pay the people it needs to do the job,” said Public Defender J. Marion Moorman. The State Attorney’s Office has had to carve about $1.2 million from its budget because of cuts from the past two legislative sessions, said spokesman Chip Thullbery. The agency cut 92 positions down to 89 last year through attrition. With today’s cuts, they are down to 84. As a result, each felony division is now to be staffed by three attorneys, rather than four, Thullbery said.
The five employees dismissed today are:
Karen Trussell, child support enforcement, $66,360
Krystal Baker, secretary, $24,800
Robert Lee, felony division, $45,902
Daniel Wehking, felony division, $44,650
Robert Pyle, county court division, $42,700
Wehking, a prosecutor for the State Attorney’s office for about two years, was in the middle of a sentencing hearing today when he was pulled out and told he had lost his job. “When you have less prosecutors, you can do less work. It doesn’t matter how many guys Grady Judd can bring in,” Wehking said, adding that he had about 100 active cases. They’ll now be dispersed among the remaining attorneys.
“They’re going to be scrambling,” he said. The other two departments facing cuts have separate budgets and will address the changes individually. Sudzina said the state Trial Court Budget Commission will meet next week to discuss how many administrative positions will have to be cut and whether the decisions will be made on a state or local level. Sudzina said he hopes to keep the decision-making local.
“We know our court system better than anybody else does,” he said.
Moorman said the Public Defender’s Office, which currently employs 134 people, will make the decision on which positions to cut. He said he expects the cuts, totalling $800,000, to be debilitating.
Public defenders will have to turn down cases, and priority will be placed on more serious crimes, he said. Some divisions, such as those dealing with violations of probation or Baker Act commitments, may lose their staff, he said. “We reach a point, as we tried to explain to the Legislature, that we can only do so much. At that point, things slow down and then you have to start prioritizing,” he said.
Sudzina said that no one, except for judges, judicial assistants and county-staffed employees, is exempt from the possibility of being cut. Judges may still be affected, though. With fewer supporting staff members, judges may have to take on responsibilities such as legal research, which is usually completed by staff attorneys, Sudzina said.
Positions that could be cut include case managers, court reporters, staff interpreters, staff attorneys, administrative staff, court technology staff, magistrates and hearing officers.“All these positions are on the table and under consideration,” Sudzina said. “It’s going to impact the quality of justice.” Sudzina said that because of the cuts, cases are likely to be heard less frequently, civil cases will be delayed and priority will be given to more serious criminal cases. “Everything will be slowed down,” he said.