Wake DA's office feeling brunt of budget cuts

Posted July 19, 2011

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— Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby says prosecutors in his office are pulling double duty as receptionists because state budget cuts have forced the office to cut several positions.

For the past few months, assistant district attorneys have been adding their names to a weekly sign-up sheet to volunteer for shifts to answer the hundreds of phone calls the office receives each day.

"I have some of the most skilled lawyers in this county who are answering telephones on a daily basis, because somebody has to answer the phones – and we have to share that duty," Willoughby said Tuesday. "We're pinched. Each day, it's robbing Peter to pay Paul."

Over the past 18 months, the district attorney has had to eliminate six positions, including an assistant prosecutor and five legal assistants. Three of those cuts were the result of the state's $19.7 billion budget that went into effect this month.

Now, the office is down to 25 legal assistants and 41 assistant district attorneys who are funded by state funds to handle the approximately 220,000 criminal cases filed in Wake County every year. About 15,000 of those are felonies.

"Oftentimes, we have to bring files up here to (the front desk) to prepare for trial," Assistant District Attorney Becky Holt said. "Tomorrow, I have to go to court and try a case, so it's just a matter of juggling. But there's not a whole lot of options. The phones have got to be answered, and we have to be open for business."

District attorney offices statewide are experiencing similar employee losses.

Becky Holt Wake DA's office feeling brunt of budget cuts

According to the North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys, 55 legal assistant positions have been cut across the state, and another 15 weren't filled after employees retired.

Five assistant district attorney jobs weren't filled after people retired, and another three positions are frozen for two years.

Although the budget cuts are hurting many district attorney offices, lawmakers who support the new budget say the cuts had to come from somewhere.

But Gov. Bev Perdue says the cuts are too severe.

"North Carolina needs to find more resources to prop up the court system," she said Tuesday. "The DA's staff is obviously a consequence of a really hard budget that didn't need to happen."

Willoughby says he fears that the current budget crisis could worsen.

"I'm concerned that, given both the budget that got passed this year and what it appears to be the future, it's not going to get any better," he said. "We may have additional cuts in the future. If so, we'll have to cut back the services, and we're struggling to try to avoid that."


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  • chercheek Jul 21, 2011

    I don't think it's that lawyers are too good to answer the phone, but if it was your daughter, or child murdered, wouldn't you want them preparing their case instead of answering the telephone?

  • kodac31 Jul 21, 2011

    Wake County's District Attorneys Office is corrupt anyway! So maybe answering some phone calls will humble them a little bit.

  • chattycat Jul 21, 2011

    Whatever, what a joke. The judicial system in this state is beyond comical. The ADAs are very lame and really need some training in court presentation, exclude all of the uummm and with regard tos. We sure need to clean up our house, starting with Bev.

  • weasel2 Jul 21, 2011

    Most of the times when someone is released its because the ADA, DA get together with the suspects lawyer and cut a deal. The whole thing is never sent before a judge until its been decided on. been there, seen it done and got the t-shirt. 20 plus as LE.

  • weasel2 Jul 21, 2011

    What lawyers are to good to answer phones???

  • jason19 Jul 20, 2011

    "I was just thinking of that exact thing. My daughter's out of work, waiting to start school in mid August. I think she would love "working" at the DA's office."

    So because your daughter is unemployed, everyone else should just love having more work handed to them that they cannot possibly complete in a work day?

    This "I have it worse than you" attitude needs to stop. Yes, being unemployed sucks. It's a bad situation. But your misfortune and misery are no reason to wish it on others. That's really the problem with this country: we are in a race to the bottom.

  • CaniacNC Jul 20, 2011

    Some of the comments here prove that people don't understand that when a DA or ADA does not have time to sufficiently prepare for a case, things will slip thru the system. Criminals get plea bargains, repeat offenders get released.. If the Prosecutors office wasn't doing three jobs at once,maybe we could get repeat offenders behind bars. THIS IS NOT a time to whine about how you think attorneys are too good to answer phones, maybe you should realize these ADA's are the only thing standing between you and a crime suspect being released from jail.

  • The only sane one here Jul 20, 2011

    You folks crack me up. You first complain that the DA's are too good to answer the phone, then turnaround and complain about the state of the legal system. Did you ever think that by having to answer phones, it might be taking away from their time to….. I don’t know, do the important job they were hired for? I'm sure if you were a victim of a crime you would love to have your DA answer phones instead of working on your case. Then you moan about their pay, never mind they’ve not had a pay raise of any kind in three years, and make much less than they could in the private sector. Yet, these “elitists” continue by choice to serve the public (i.e. you), despite lousy pay, long hours, lack of resources and respect from many of you fine Americans here. You call them whiners, yet spend all day here whining about everything that was not spoon fed to you by some millionaire radio host or millionaire politician that panders to your insecurities. And no I am not a DA (private sector sof

  • WritNEWlaws Jul 20, 2011

    @iceblue200404- Not just you but it does sound like that they are too good to answer the phones! What is it about answering the phones in an office setting where if you are blessed these days to have your own office, you feel you are "above" the norm of answering the phone? I'm sure there are many of you out there that have this level of thinking. Wonder if these same people have their butler or maid answer their phone at home?

  • Wendellcatlover Jul 20, 2011

    Driverkid3 - I was just thinking of that exact thing. My daughter's out of work, waiting to start school in mid August. I think she would love "working" at the DA's office.