Sunday, April 15, 2007

Freebie Prosecutors are Cutting the Drug Caseload

(Here's another early one from Governing Magazine, this time from their July 1991 issue.)

Drug cases are doubling the caseload in many courts around the country. Pro bono prosecutors are providing one solution.

In Massachusetts, for example, a large law firm and the Suffolk County district attorney's office have signed an agreement that gives the county a lawyer for eight months. After the first Choate, Hall & Stewart lawyer's tour of duty with the DA is up, he will be replaced by another, and the process will continue. Most pro bono prosecutors have been borrowed less formally.

The county turned to the law firm after losing 35 out of about 130 prosecutors due to budget cuts over the last two years. A huge backlog of cases resulted. "The economic crunch put us in a position where we had to reach out,'' says Suffolk County District Attorney Newman A. Flanagan.

While the district attorney's office gets a free prosecutor for eight months, the lawyer gets some much-needed jury trial experience. And with one or two extra cases being tried every day, the backlog is shrinking.

Seattle has been using pro bono prosecutors for about 10 years, but only stepped up their use last year, according to Dan Satterberg, chief of staff of the King County prosecutor's office. He says the volunteers concentrated on misdemeanor cases at first but now spend their time on drug cases.

Satterberg says the district attorney's office runs a three-day training session twice a year for both civil lawyers and the DA's new deputies. After the program, the civilian lawyers take one or two cases to trial, which could take a few days or a few weeks. They leave with trial experience, and the DA has fewer cases to try. The program has been expanded recently, with one law firm giving the office an associate lawyer for three months.

No comments: