Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne pushed back against a Dane County committee’s decision to cut two positions from the attorney’s office in the 2018 budget.
The Public Protection & Judiciary Committee approved a budget amendment Monday sponsored by Sups. Carousel Bayrd, District 8, and Jenni Dye, District 33, to eliminate two full-time, project paralegal positions in the district attorney’s office.
Bayrd said the positions were designated in last year’s budget to increase the number of people diverted from the criminal justice system into programs such as the county-funded community restorative court.
“We gave you these paralegals with the goal that people would be diverted,” Bayrd said. “From the County Board’s perspective … the funding for this was to lighten the load, for less people to be in the criminal justice system, and I don’t see that supported.”
Under the community restorative court program, offenders between the ages of 17 and 25 who are referred to the process can avoid jail time and a criminal record if they accept responsibility and help repair the harm through community service and sometimes financial restitution.
As of Oct. 30, the CRC had seen a total of 108 cases, according to the county’s Department of Human Services. Of those, 21 had been referred by the DA’s office, the Madison Police Department referred 75 and the remaining were referred by the Fitchburg Police Department and the town of Madison.
The majority of cases, 71 percent, referred to the CRC were municipal, about 28 percent were misdemeanors and about 2 percent were felonies.
Sup. Paul Rusk, District 12, said the county wants to see more cases referred to the CRC, which receives about $239,000 per year from the county.
“We need to have a ton of cases in that restorative court if we’re ever going to do anything about the disparities in the county,” Rusk said.
Ozanne said the paralegal positions help lift weight off of a burdened district attorney’s office and that the office is having an effect on racial disparities in Dane County. However, he said the DA’s office needs more prosecutors.
“Our reality is that prosecutors have impossible caseloads and an assembly line of justice environment caused by insufficient resources,” Ozanne said.
Sup. Tim Kiefer, District 25, who works as a Dane County criminal defense lawyer, said the designated paralegal project positions are crucial to the function of the district attorney’s office, especially to the more time-intensive diversion programs.
“It is absolutely crucial we have that paralegal support,” Kiefer said.
The committee also added two paralegal positions: One would support pre-trial risk assessment in the clerk's office and another based in the Human Services Department would focus on work related to child abuse and neglect.
Parisi: announcement ‘misled’ public
Last week, Ozanne called on Dane County to add three new attorney jobs for the DA’s office that were not included in the state budget.
Dane County Executive Joe Parisi said in a letter to the district attorney Oct. 30 that he worried Ozanne’s announcement “misled and unnecessarily scared the public.” Parisi also said the county has increased the DA office’s budget by 40 percent since 2011.
“Dane County has done more than our share toward addressing this matter,” Parisi said. “I hope that moving forward you will focus your efforts at those responsible for funding assistant district attorney positions who have not held up their end of the bargain — the governor and state Legislature.”
Ozanne said at the meeting Monday he was alerting people to issues of public safety with his press conference.
Attorneys are typically state jobs and funded by the state while support positions are funded by counties. Before 1990, prosecutors were paid by counties.