Cases that require months of prep time are often rushed through in weeks at the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office.
Just look at Assistant District Attorney Kim Cordova's workload. Last week she had to go to court on a case of 15 counts of sodomy of a child with three weeks of prep time. She needed six months.
"We are swamped," Cordova said. "It's insane."
The caseload is so overwhelming that District Attorney Lohra Miller flanked by dozens of law enforcement personnel from across the valley begged Monday for more funding to hire new attorneys.
Today the Salt Lake County Council will ultimately decide how much money she will get during budget hearings.
Miller said she needs 40 new full-time employees to keep the streets safe, but Mayor Peter Corroon only recommended the council hire eight including no new prosecutors.
The district attorney said that's not enough. At the very least, she said she needs the nine new prosecutors she asked for.
"We're asking for the money to keep our communities safe and do our jobs well," Miller said. "Any attorneys would be helpful."
It would cost roughly $2.5 million to hire the new attorneys and support staff as part of an office restructuring plan, according to Miller's proposed budget.
Corroon said he understands Miller's plight, but he's got to balance the budget and avoid a tax increase.
"We understand she needs and wants to make sure public safety is a priority, but we've got to take a holistic approach," Corroon said. "The sheriff has asked for a lot of money, human services has asked for a lot of money. We try to be balanced to meet all of the needs."
Miller said she is not in favor of a tax increase to fix the woes in her office. She said the county just needs to re-evaluate its priorities.
Overwhelming caseloads are driving down morale, and criminals "are not being held accountable" for their crimes, Miller said. Felony prosecutors at the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office are assigned about 215 cases per year, while the national average is about 90 felony cases per prosecutor.
And in most cases, a majority of county prosecutors said they enter into plea agreements instead of following the case through trial because of caseload volumes, according to a report Miller commissioned in April by Sanders Consulting LLC.
All in all, when compared to national averages, the district attorney's office is understaffed by nearly 18 attorneys, according to the report.
"We have got to fix that," County Councilman Jeff Allen said. "We have got to address this at a level which will have more of a direct impact."
Allen said he hopes the County Council will at least provide funding to hire a few more prosecutors.
Miller did get some help during mid-year budget adjustments in June. The council doubled Miller's domestic-violence staff in June, by approving five new full-time positions.
That caseload is alarming to the 20 or so police chiefs across the valley, who stood with Miller on Monday to beg the county to "make law enforcement a priority.""Police agencies see the overwhelming demand on prosecutors," Sandy Police Chief Steve Chapman said. "Better support provided by new prosecutors will help those of us fighting crime on the streets."
E-mail: [email protected]