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Sedgwick County DA makes case for funding increase in budget proposal to commissioners

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Monday, May 19, 2014, at 1:33 p.m.
  • Updated Thursday, July 17, 2014, at 7:12 a.m.

The Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office has seen caseloads increase in every category and is asking the county for some help keeping up.

However, District Attorney Marc Bennett said his office also has cut costs on some administrative functions that have saved money, such as centralizing charging and using digitized records.

Bennett presented his department budget Monday to county commissioners, asking for an additional $181,836 for next year. That money would allow the office to hire another lawyer and an administrative assistant to handle child-in-need-of-care cases, and a scanning specialist. The department’s current budget is about $10.3 million.

The work that goes into child-in-need-of-care cases is “profound,” Bennett said. And it should be, he said.

“The stakes are so high,” he said.

His office handled 549 child-in-need-of-care cases last year, Bennett said. That compares with 540 in 2012.

Other types of cases have seen a greater increase.

The criminal division handled 3,360 cases last year compared with 2,961 in 2012, an increase of just over 13 percent.

Juvenile offender cases increased almost 7 percent, from 1,171 in 2012 to 1,248 last year.

Probation petitions filed in the office increased 7 percent, from 776 in 2012 to 831 last year.

Traffic cases increased the least, less than 1 percent, but also make up the bulk of cases for the office. Traffic cases increased from 23,304 in 2012 to 23,359 last year.

The office also is seeing more of its cases go to a jury trial. There were 115 trials by jury in 2012 and 137 last year, an increase of 19 percent.

Commissioner Tim Norton asked Bennett about how the office was dealing with continuances. The Eagle has reported extensively on how case delays keeps inmates in jail longer, costing the county more in jail expenses. In 2010, The Eagle reported that lawyers asked for, and judges granted, an average of 23 1/2 continuances for inmates who had been awaiting trial the longest. Not all continuances delay trials, but some do, keeping inmates in jail longer when the county is concerned about overcrowding.

Sedgwick County District Court Chief Judge James Fleetwood told The Eagle last year that the court had reduced its trial docket and was working to identify cases that could be disposed of more quickly while also moving up the oldest cases.

He emphasized Monday that sometimes continuances can’t be avoided because they help ensure due process for those accused.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SGCountyDeb.

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