Countywide : D.A. Cuts Staffing at Municipal Court
In a move that could cause backups in other courts, the Ventura County district attorney’s office will stop staffing three courtrooms where misdemeanor arraignments are held.
In a letter to Presiding Judge Herbert Curtis III, Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury said the cutback at Municipal Court is necessary “in light of the Board of Supervisors’ failure to adequately fund the operations of this office.”
The move, which takes effect Monday, means that no prosecutor will be present when misdemeanor suspects enter pleas in courtrooms 10, 11 and 13 at the Hall of Justice in Ventura.
In some cases, the absence of a representative from the district attorney’s office will make no difference, said Kevin J. McGee, assistant chief deputy district attorney. He cited the example of a person charged with drunk driving and with having an illegal blood-alcohol level. The judges know, he said, that the district attorney typically is willing to drop one of those charges in exchange for a guilty plea to the other.
Backlogs will occur, he said, when a defendant wants to know what his sentence will be before pleading guilty. Judges will not discuss possible sentences without both a prosecutor and defense attorney present, McGee said. So the defendant will have to plead not guilty and return to court for a trial-setting hearing in Courtroom 14, where a prosecutor is present.
“It very well could result in more cases going to trial,” McGee said. “It’s not something we desire. We had to take steps to meet the reduced levels of service mandated by the budget cut we sustained. We are not required by law to be at arraignments.”
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors cut the district attorney’s $12.6-million budget by $333,000. Earlier, however, the board had given the agency an extra $500,000 by raising auto registration fees. Officials differ on exactly where the district attorney’s office ended up, but by all accounts it fared better than most other county offices, many of which took 5% budget cuts.
Told of Bradbury’s plan, Board Chairman Maggie Erickson Kildee said she was “surprised that he couldn’t have found a place to cut without so much impact.”
“I would presume that Mike must believe that’s what he has to do,” she said. “I don’t know. I don’t pretend to know how to run his shop.”