On Thursday, the office of Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich announced it would be laying off two assistant DAs and two staff members, reductions Rich says are a “direct result” of increased budget cuts from the State of Alabama and the “lack of additional funding” from the Mobile County Commission.
Though the fresh cuts approved in the state legislature are expected to exacerbate the problem, funding shortfalls are nothing new, today’s announcement brings the number of layoffs implemented over the past five years to 12.
Those financial constraints prompted the ongoing lawsuit between the DA’s office and the County Commission, which Rich filed in 2012 after her efforts to negotiate increased funding from the county proved fruitless.
Despite Alabama’s Supreme Court ruling in the District Attorney’s favor last month, Commissioners Connie Hudson and Merceria Ludgood moved have supported petitioning the court to rehear the case. Commission President Jery Carl has suggested both parties would be better served to find an agreeable solution out of court.
The state’s high court has not responded to the request to revisit its month-old decision, but in the meantime, Rich said her office continues to see declines in revenue, and as a result, announced its latest batch of layoffs April 14.According to the statement, the office’s budget has been cut by 50 percent by the state since 2011.
The office has also been informed that its 2015-2016 supplemental appropriation by the state has not been allocated by the legislature and therefore its current State budget is being cut by an additional 7 percent. In addition, the budget Alabama Legislature last month makes additional cuts to the office of prosecution services, which Rich said would affect her budget by an additional $190,000.
Payment of fines, fees and court costs are also down in all of the Courts in Mobile County, according to the statement. In the first six months of this year alone there has been 24 percent decrease in payments, which has resulted in a $176,547 decrease in revenue to the office.
“We simply cannot absorb such drastic cuts with no help in sight,” the statement read. “This will slow down the prosecution of cases for all victims of crime in Mobile County and will lead to additional layoffs unless we receive supplemental funding from the State or Mobile County pays what the Alabama Supreme Court has ordered them to pay.”
In response to the statement from the DA’s office, Mobile County Attorney Jay Ross said the commissioners were “sorry to hear about continuing cuts,” but it’s not the county’s responsibility to fix the state’s problems.
“Unlike the state, however, Mobile County has never cut the funding to the District’s Attorney’s Office,” Ross said in a prepared statement. “In fact, Mobile County appropriates $1.6 Million to the DA’s office — almost double that of the state’s funding to her office — something that happens nowhere else in Alabama. We will meet our obligations under the law, but Mobile County simply doesn’t have the funding to cover the shortfalls of other governmental entities.”
The Commissioners and Rich have a different take on what the county’s “obligations under the law” are, but as the disagreement continues, Rich is taking some drastic measures to reduce costs in her office including eliminating the White Collar crimes unit altogether.
“The white collar crime unit has existed for the past 20 years and was dedicated to the vertical prosecution of financially-motivated, nonviolent crime committed by business and government professionals, appeals and impeachment proceedings,” the statement reads. “These cases require a massive amount of investigation and preparation for trial. In the future when these crimes are charged, they will now be prosecuted by the assistant district attorney in the courtroom where the case is assigned.”
In addition, Rich said the Worthless Check Unit will be serviced by one employee, and the hours of operation for public payments will be reduced — operating from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m from this point forward.