BISBEE – As the Cochise County Board of Supervisors continue to discuss the 2021-22 budget, it was given a glimpse into what the past year has been like for those working in the County Attorney’s Office, Justice and Superior Courts, Adult and Juvenile Detention and Probation Offices and Court Administration.
COVID-19 shut down public access to the Court House for some adjudications, but the departments wrangled their way into the digital age and much of the caseload was completed via video conferencing.
County Attorney Brian McIntyre told Supervisors Ann English, Peggy Judd and Tom Borer the criminal side of his department performed 1,353 felony reviews over the past year, of which 90 still remain. His attorneys also handled 3,000 misdemeanor cases.
The success rate is based on the new prosecutor’s case management e-filing program, PbK, which has another bright side to it – the reduction of costs for the copier and copies, as well as all case files are online for easy access, said McIntyre. The program also allows the Sheriff’s Office deputies to email arrest reports, ending physical drop-offs. Again, saving time and money.
“We are doing well on staying caught up,” McIntyre said. “We are prioritizing case. In a perfect world, we would love to have empty queues.”
McIntyre’s budget is $4,716,208, which covers 33 positions in the General Fund. Revenues are estimated at $1,812,564. There are three vacant positions he has been trying to fill, but the attorney positions are not attracting any candidates.
“We had the jobs listed for six months and didn’t get any applicants,” said McIntyre. “We hoped for mid-level experience lawyers, but now we’re looking at graduates who have passed the bar. It’s a concern because you need lawyers to be able to prosecute, defend and judge.”
There is concern about people incarcerated who have not been tried and are still in jail, he added.
McIntyre mentioned the difficulties in holding trials in small courtrooms, as there was not enough room to provide proper social distancing.
“We carried on as best we could,” he said. “We tried to keep the doors open.”
He noted many of the funding sources used historically from fines and fees, worth millions, “may be lost.”
English noted, “We’re all aware of the legislators’ move to pass those expenses down to us. Revenues have dropped 300 percent. It looks bleak for those of us who depend on those funds and it’s a common problem across the state.”
Superior Court and presiding Judge Tim Dickerson brought in a $11,616,857 budget to cover Superior Court, Clerk of the Court, Justice Courts, Juvenile and Adult Detention and Probation and court administration costs.
Court Administrator John Schow said there were 907 people on probation in the county and in spite of the pandemic, probation officers were able to maintain contact to monitor their progress either face-to-face or online.
“We have to help people when they are being released from prison,” he said. “We have to be sure they are not getting back on drugs and maintain their curfews.”
To help juveniles on probation, probation officers work with them through Kids At Hope, a program that helps at-risk kids to overcome barriers holding back their success. Since the closure of the county juvenile detention center in January, young offenders unable to be managed at home are now sent to Santa Cruz County’s detention facility.
Schow told the Supervisors there were 150 sex offenders in the county who will be released over the next three to five years who will have to be tracked.
Niltza Flores, associate court administrator, said not just the county but the state is having problems finding people to fill court recorder positions. The training needed is offered only in one school in Phoenix and one online course.
“Many recorders are retiring, leaving vacant positions,” she said. “With Senate Bill 1267, the courts will be able to use remote recorders to cover Superior Court cases.”
One of the challenges the court system faces is the release of people who have been convicted of marijuana possession. Some of the sentences go back years and there may be difficulty in finding their records.
“And there’s a tsunami of evictions coming, as well,” Flores said.
There were a few requests for funding, which included $75,000 for a consultant to help with a strategic plan.
Theresa Rockrich, business manager of juvenile court services, asked to raise the court security wages by $3,000 from $30,536 annually to $33,616 in order to retain security staff.
Other judicial funding requests were a $45,000 detention vehicle, $33,482 for a Justice of the Peace 4 position, $42,000 for an IT program, $31,370 for increases in the pro tempore from 20 hours to 30, and $56,000 for new carpet and paint for a total of $282,852.