County prosecutors seek to stem staffing crisis | News, Sports, Jobs

ALBANY — New York County prosecutors say they’re struggling to stem a “brain drain crisis” as talented attorneys leave for better pay and to escape the frustrations of red tape mandates enacted by the state legislature.

As Governor Kathy Hochul works on a draft state budget, the New York State District Attorneys Association argues that county attorneys’ offices need significant funding due to changes to the Discovery Act enacted by the Legislative Assembly in 2019. .

Prosecutors say the warrants — relating to sharing documents and records with defense attorneys — have overwhelmed their employees to the point that they are causing some attorneys to quit their jobs with district attorneys.

“Changes in discovery are a major contributing factor” in recruiting and retention challenges, said Anthony Jordan, president of the District Attorneys Association and Washington County attorney.

Additional duties brought about by discovery changes include reviewing and redacting medical records, reviewing video footage to blur license plates and faces of bystanders, and hiring and training additional staff to prepare the evidence.

Jim Quinn, former executive district attorney for the Queens District Attorney’s Office, said assistant district attorneys are often incentivized to become prosecutors because they want to prosecute defendants but end up being used as “paralegals” due to discovery requirements and timelines associated with warrants to provide evidence to defense attorneys.

“It’s just impossible to comply with discovery laws on time and so you end up triaging cases,” said Quinn, who spent 42 years working as a prosecutor.

“You are required to provide discovery on these cases when you know they will not go to trial” and are aiming for a plea deal, he said. “The fast trial clock is ticking against you. It is extremely demoralizing. »

The current state budget provided $40 million statewide to help prosecutors comply with revised discovery rules. District attorneys are asking for $100 million from the next spending plan.

A separate money tap, designed to help prosecutors deal with repeat and violent offenders, provided county prosecutors with $12.5 million last year, well below the $22.7 million dollars offered 20 years earlier. District attorneys are now asking the governor for $18 million for the 2023-24 fiscal year.

Jordan said retaining assistant district attorneys is also difficult because the state government and private law firms have salaries that exceed what counties pay attorneys.

He stressed that his group was not looking to roll back all changes to the new Discovery rules. “But it’s something we have to find a way to address,” he said. “We should look at how we are actually accomplishing the mission and purpose of these changes.”

Prosecutors also hope lawmakers and Hochul will reopen discussion of controversial bail law changes that restrict judges’ ability to send defendants back to jail if they are deemed to pose a danger to communities.

“I don’t see how people can look at the current environment and not say we need to do something,” said Jordan. “It seems obvious that people do not feel safe in their communities in many places. There needs to be a discussion about all the different initiatives that have taken place that are contributing to the sense of alarm – and the alarm is not misplaced.

With the expansion this year of the Red Flag Act allowing the seizure of firearms from individuals posing a danger to themselves or others, the association is seeking $6 million from prosecutors, citing the extra work of representing police officers seeking extreme risk protection orders from judges.

The new law increased obligations involving the preparation of documents, hearing witnesses and other steps necessary to convince a judge to issue such an order, according to the association.

The state’s criminal justice laws became a hot issue in the gubernatorial race that ended with Hochul edging out his GOP challenger, Rep. Lee Zeldin, by less than 300,000 votes.

While Hochul has yet to elaborate on its criminal justice agenda, it is expected to highlight it when it releases the proposed budget in January.

Progressive lawmakers downstate should push for more laws aimed at reducing the state’s prison population.

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