The Denton County District Attorney’s Office needs new blood to stay efficient for county residents.
At least that is what First Assistant District Attorney Jamie Beck pitched to county commissioners Tuesday. Beck was one of a number of department heads appealing budget requests denied to them when the county staff recommended the $223 million budget for the 2014 fiscal year.
Beck was appealing requests for two hires in the appellate and intake departments of the office.
“Since Paul Johnson took office, as far as attorneys, the DA’s office has not grown except for the one civil attorney in 2007,” Beck said. “The county has grown. Our caseload has. We’ve tried and tried, and I think now we tried at our peril in these two particular departments.”
She said her department was asking for an entry-level appellate attorney. A new appellate attorney has not been hired since 1997.
“That’s a long time, and you can imagine the growth and caseload increase we have had,” Beck said.
She noted an example of 45 briefs in 2008 and how that count was up to 68 briefs being handled by the DA’s office.
“It’s a very important division that has taken on additional tasks without any new help. Reading 20-plus more transcripts, research, writing the briefs … what they have had to do is ask for extensions and that just delays justice, delays upholding our convictions,” Beck said.
“We ask for two and three and four extensions on some cases,” she said. “Quite frankly, it’s embarrassing to Denton County, but we have to.”
The second attorney position sought is an intake position to help on the front end of the cases that come in, Beck said. She noted the additional courts that have come online with the county, with the newest one, the 442nd District Court, coming in the next fiscal year.
“Obviously, the population has grown, and with more population, there is more crime. We haven’t had a new intake attorney for sure since 2007, and I don’t think there has been one for quite some time before that. I just don’t think we can do it any longer and be effective in our jobs,” Beck said.
Commissioner Andy Eads asked Beck about her priority of the two if she had to pick one. Beck said the appellate attorney position was at the top of the list.
Other appeals included Denton County Health Department director Bing Burton appealing for jail health hires and reclassifications, and the constables of precincts 4, 5 and 6 looking for approval on assorted items such as training, body armor and gun boxes.
Precinct 6 Constable Ron Smith was on hand to appeal his request for boxes for his and his staff’s vehicles to keep automatic weapons safe and protected, though County Judge Mary Horn questioned the cost of $1,564 per box.
No decisions were made on appeals Tuesday, though Horn was ready to vote against the appeal request of the Boys & Girls Club of North Texas. The organization was left out of the funding recommendation by the social service organizations committee.
“They are a wonderful organization. I don’t dispute that. We have an awful lot of 501(c)3 organizations in Denton County that do great work,” Horn said. “There are limited funds, and I am not willing to increase the list of agencies supported and the social service committee agrees with that viewpoint. And I am not going to allocate tax revenues other than what we get from tobacco funds.”
Commissioners are expected to make decisions on the appeals next week.
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.