DA bill to pay for prosecutor

Published 12:01 am Saturday, April 5, 2014

Legislation signed this week by Gov. Phil Bryant that will add 14 assistant district attorneys across the state will pay the salary of one local prosecutor.
Lawmakers approved the assistant district attorneys and funding for the positions Wednesday after Bryant called a special session.
Locally, the money will be used to pay the salary of Assistant District Attorney Bert Carraway, District Attorney Ricky Smith said.
The county currently pays $57,000 of Carraway’s salary, and the DA’s office pitches in $3,000, Smith said.

ADA Bert Carraway

ADA Bert Carraway

“We’re going to shift that from the county to the sate,” said Smith, who as president of the Mississippi Prosecutors Association lobbied for the additional funding.
House and Senate negotiators couldn’t reach an agreement on a bill in the 2014 regular session that would have added more prosecutors and judges, as the two chambers argued over adding new judges and rearranging the boundaries of the circuit and chancery districts that cover the state’s 82 counties.
Smith said he commended Gov. Bryant on being “of tremendous assistance of getting the bill though the Legislature.”
The new bill adds a new prosecutor in 14 circuits on Nov. 1. Two of those circuits, one covering Madison and Rankin counties and one covering Jackson, George and Greene counties, will get a second new prosecutor on July 1, 2015.
The remaining eight circuit districts will retain their current number of prosecutors.
Adding new prosecutors tremendously speeds up the judicial process, Smith said.
Since Carraway joined the DA’s office in September 2012, the average length of incarceration for inmates awaiting revocation hearings had been cut from 45 days to 20 days, Smith said.
“Just in keeping the jail numbers down he has been a tremendous asset and he’s also taken a lot of the caseload,” Smith said, noting the office handles 800 cases per year in Warren, Issaquena and Sharkey counties.
Senate Judiciary A Committee Chairman Briggs Hopson, R-Vicksburg, said new assistant district attorneys were assigned based on need. Bryant echoed that position Wednesday at the Governor’s Mansion.
“This needs to be on who needs them the most,” he said. “Who needs the most assistant district attorneys, and who needs the most judges? And that should be where we put our resources.”
House Judiciary A Committee Chairman Mark Baker, R-Brandon, said the new prosecutors allotted for the budget year beginning July 1 would cost $1.4 million. That money had already been put into the state’s budget. Another $640,000 that had been set aside for additional justice personnel will be transferred to augment the budget for the state’s drug courts.
The governor said the additional assistants will allow district attorneys to choose to go to trial more often.
“We have, too often, plea bargains because DAs are just understaffed,” Bryant said. “If you’re at that type of situation where you’re looking at going into a trial or a plea bargain, we want them to have that choice.”
Because lawmakers were already meeting, the practical effect of the special session was to revive the issue. Bryant is calling on lawmakers to forgo any additional daily pay they would receive as a result of the special session.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.