Mobile mayor pitches $1.5 million plan to help DA cut backlog

Published: Feb. 28, 2023 at 2:15 PM CST
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MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) - A proposal by Mayor Sandy Stimpson to contribute $1.5 million to the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office would cut a backlog that built up during the COVID-19 pandemic, a top aide said Tuesday.

The City Council could vote on the plan next week.

Under the plan, the city would give the DA’s Office $500,000 from the city’s General Fund surplus in each of the next three years to pay for additional employees. James Barber, the mayor’s chief of staff, said city officials would work during that time to get the state Legislature to assume those costs in future years.

Barber said the mayor’s office took a similar approach several years ago to address a shortfall in the court system. He said that funding expired a year ago when the state funded the positions that city money was supporting.

“If we did the same thing that we did for the courts four years ago, what would the prosecutor’s office look like and how much would that help?” he said. “And so, the feedback that we got from (the district attorney) was that it would be a tremendous impact, and they would be able to hire the positions to start relieving the backlog of cases.”

Mobile County District Attorney Keith Blackwood said he hopes to hire seven additional prosecutors, plus an investigators and up to two support staffers. He said the city’s contribution would cover half of the cost.

“Our Circuit Court attorneys have among the highest caseloads in the state,” he said. “They average 450 cases per attorney. In District Court, I have one attorney in each courtroom. They average over 1,000 pending cases at any given time. And it should be noted, these are not 4,500 cases a year or 1,000 cases a year. We’re talking about at any given time, that’s how many cases are pending.”

Some council members on Tuesday expressed frustration over the prospect of local taxpayers helping to shoulder a burden that should be a state responsibility. District 5 Councilman Joel Daves said he supports the proposal – reluctantly.

“It’s a Hobson’s choice,” he said. “Given that choice, I think we – I think we’ve got the money to the DA’s office. I’m not happy about doing it. … So this 1.5 million acts as a subsidy to the state of Alabama at a time when the state, I believe, is enjoying the largest budget surplus in its history.”

He added: “In the interim. as I said, I don’t think we have a choice.”

Barber said he shares those frustrations.

“I mean, the state should be properly funding – just like the court system should be properly funded and the corrections system should be properly funded,” he said. “But until we can get the state, itself, to take over the funding, then we’re gonna have to subsidize it because public safety is actually a fundamental purpose of government, whether it’s local, county or state, or federal. And so, we all have to pitch in.”


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