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Prosecutor expects to lay off attorneys
In the face of additional budget cuts, the Kitsap County Prosecutor’s Office is considering the establishment of a “cook book” that would proscribe punishment for specific crimes as long as certain conditions are met.
Along with this change in policy, it is likely the office will also need to eliminate the positions up to six attorney, according to Prosecutor Russell Hauge.
“We’re working on a system that would give defendants an automatic penalty after committing a crime as long as they have no previous criminal record,” Hauge said. “This will help us clear the docket and prosecute the most serious crimes.”
As part of the budget-cutting priority that has controlled county government in recent years, Hauge was informed on Oct. 6 that he would need to cut about $440,000 from the office’s $8 million annual budget.
Hauge has aggressively lobbied against cuts in the prosecutor office, arguing that it will decrease overall public safety. He has now concluded the required cuts could only be accomplished through layoffs, since “every other place that we can cut has already been done.”
Hauge said attorney positions would be cut since reductions in the support staff have already been implemented.
“If we cut any more of the support staff,” Hauge said, “the place will fall apart.”
The new procedural document would list specific crimes and penalties, and offer them to qualified defendants in exchange for a guilty plea.
In some cases, this would involve knocking down certain felonies to misdemeanor offenses.
Crimes that qualify crimes could include minor property crimes, traffic and some domestic violations.
Hauge does not expect it to include drug possession cases, but that could change.
Hauge expects to begin the development of the guidelines soon, for implementation by the first of the year.
He said the process will not be accomplished behind closed doors.
"Everything will be done out in the open,” he said.
There is no estimate as to how much can be saved with the new process.
The guidelines do not operate in a vacuum, and will affect other agencies such as District Court and Drug Court.
If an offense is downgraded to a misdemeanor, the District Court will need to find room on its docket. And the already overextended Drug Court cannot accommodate any new clients.
Hauge said he did not know how the Kitsap County commissioners arrived at the $440,000 figure, and that he “was not consulted” about where the cuts should be made.
But South Kitsap Commissioner Charlotte Garrido said the cuts were expected.
“We have all had to make sacrifices,” she said. “It hasn’t been easy for any of us.”
Garrido said elected officials had requested an amount to be cut, rather than having the commissioners get specific.
“We heard them say that we should tell them how much to cut and they would do it themselves,” she said. “I don't think Russ was at the last meeting.”
Hauge said his office may save money by narrowing its focus. It is now charged with criminal prosecution of cases and providing legal advice to the county.
After cuts, the county may need to get its legal advice elsewhere.
The proposed prosecutor cuts coincide with the announcement that Kitsap County will be hiring two public defenders.
Hauge does not expect any personnel exchange between the departments.
“I’m not involved in anything the Public Defender does,” Hauge said. “Someone from my staff who is laid off would be free to apply for one of those jobs if they felt it was something they were qualified to do.”