Efforts to replace departing staff, as well as bring on new employees, at the Clark County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office hit a speed bump this week. The new staff are intended to address a backlog of criminal cases resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
During an Oct. 19 review on the fall 2021 supplemental budget, Clark County Councilor Gary Medvigy asked to have the office’s request for American Rescue Plan Act funds removed from consideration. That request was approved in a 3-2 vote.
But the county council had previously approved Prosecuting Attorney Tony Golik’s request to hire 11 full-time employees and the office had already begun hiring staff.
Medvigy said he had a lot of questions about the request, including what was creating the backlog, whether it was the pandemic or a result of the Blake decision. In February, the Washington Supreme Court ruled in State v. Blake that the state’s felony drug possession statute was unconstitutional and void.
As a result, individuals previously convicted of simple drug possession could have those convictions dismissed and could also file to have fees paid to attorneys reimbursed.
“We can’t possibly get a really good estimate on the backlog because of that decision,” Medvigy said. “We’ve also heard about pandemic delays in trials and how that’s disrupted the criminal justice system. … I think we’re going to have an overlap between the backlog from Blake and the backlog in trials not being able to go out.”
According to the funding request, the office is asking for just over $1.4 million to pay for salaries, benefits, supplies and equipment costs. Nearly $114,000 of that amount would go to indigent defense.
Councilors Julie Olson and Temple Lentz disagreed with rescinding the council’s prior approval.
“I would not recommend we pause on something that’s already been approved by the council,” Olson said. “We have victims that need their cases adjudicated.”
Olson said the move would also set a bad precedent and undermine employees’ confidence in the council.
“If we do this, I would question the credibility of this council going forward, and how staff would respond if we approve it, give them the go-ahead and then not do the work to put it into the budget,” Olson said.
Since that meeting, Golik said he met with Medvigy to further discuss the office’s needs.
“We’re on the same page, based on our conversations,” Golik said. “The (American Rescue Plan Act) funding is the right source to use.”
Golik said the request will go back before the council on Nov. 16, and he has every expectation it will be approved.