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Report: Walworth County needs more prosecutors

:: DA says shortages has led to 'triage approach'

Mike Heine/The Week

(Published July 26, 2007, 4:38 p.m.)

There are moderate staffing deficiencies in the Walworth County District Attorney's Office, according to a report released this week by the Legislative Audit Bureau.

Walworth County has five full-time prosecutors, but needs about 2.38 more. It is running about 68 percent of what should be the most efficient level, according to the report.

"We've had to do a triage approach to the system," Walworth County District Attorney Phil Koss said of his staffing shortages. "It results in delays. It results in perhaps less serious cases not being issued."

Walworth County last added a prosecutor in 1989, Koss said. It attempted to add a sixth in 1992 when another circuit court branch was added. The state denied the request.

When Koss started as prosecutor in 1990, the office handled about 1,000 total cases, including felonies, misdemeanors, traffic and ordinance violations and juvenile crimes.

In 2005, the office handled 2,550 total cases.

Not only are there more cases, they're also more complex, Koss said.

"More is expected (by society) because of CSI-type programs and everything," Koss said. "More is expected from law enforcement and prosecutors. Not only are there more cases, they become more difficult."

The office has records dating back to 1976. In the last 15 years, the thickness of the files has noticeably grown due to the increased investigating and paperwork needed to reach a conviction, Koss said.

"That just shows the complexity of these cases," he said. "It's not saying Walworth County is becoming more criminal, but it's certainly growing. It's a reflection of the population growing."

The office has expanded its secretarial staff from four to nine since 1990, Koss said.

Statewide, Wisconsin is short 117 assistant district attorneys. Between 2002 and 2006, the number of prosecutors decreased from 444.35 to 424.65 positions. Between 2001 and 2005, the number of criminal prosecutions rose 11.5 percent, according to the report.

Walworth County was one of 63 understaffed counties. Eight were slightly overstaffed, the audit bureau found.

Between 2005-06, Wisconsin paid its district attorneys' office $44.4 million, according to the report.


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