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Stark County state's attorney seeks $50K for help with caseload

Caseloads in the Stark County State's Attorney's Office are becoming more time-consuming as crimes become more violent, said State's Attorney Tom Henning.

To help with the workload involved with the in-depth cases, Henning asked Tuesday at a commission meeting if the State's Attorney's Office could be afforded $50,000 to cover the cost of a paralegal/attorney to help with the workload.

"If you could give me some kind of padding, and I would suggest right now in the neighborhood of $50,000, to try to cover services of a paralegal/attorney just to get going," he said, adding that he might have to come back for more funding.

When Henning brought the idea of a new hire to the commission last month, he estimated the cost of a new attorney and possibly some supporting staff to be around $90,000 to $100,000.

Henning admitted it may not be easy finding a part-time state's attorney or a full-time paralegal, considering the difficulty Williston has had attracting help.

"The public defender's office has been trying to get someone up there for a long time and the prosecutor's office is the same way," he said.

But as the pass-through cases are replaced by more incidents of disorderly conduct, simple assault, assault and other violent and semi-violent Class A misdemeanor and lower offenses that take extra time to deal with, Henning said additional help is needed.

The Stark County State's Attorney's Office handled 167 felony and 828 misdemeanor cases just from January through August, according to data from the office.

In all of 2011, the State's Attorney's Office dealt with a total of 289 felony and 1,035 misdemeanor cases.

"I've reviewed the numbers with my staff and the problem here is that the numbers don't reflect the change in our caseload," he said. "The point is we're basically running on empty. What I have is attorneys who haven't been on vacation, don't take a break unless a case is settled and don't get to go to trainings."

Commissioner Jay Elkin suggested Henning evaluate the needs in his office and come back after Jan. 1 and the commission could consider amending the budget.

If a need still exists and a qualified candidate is found, Commissioner Duane Wolf suggested approaching the state Legislature for extra money to fund the position in 2013.

"The state is going to have a balance of probably $2 billion and I think we should talk to them about sending money to the oil-producing counties," he said. "We all also need to be aware of anytime there is a grant available and we need to be crying out case to maybe fund another attorney. We, this county, do not apply for enough grants."

Henning said previous grants were often earmarked by the federal government and particular areas North Dakota did not qualify for.

"I don't disagree that anything we can get from public monies would be beneficial, but the fact of the matter is only about one or one-and-a-half positions were funded by the last grant and the Attorney General's Office got that," he said. "There may be grants available but we either don't get prioritized as prosecution or we don't meet the minimum standards compared to what the feds are dealing with."