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Tuesday, May 13 2014 02:19 PM

District attorney wins fight to hire more prosecutors, investigators

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green was one of the speakers at the second annual Victim's Rights March in downtown Bakersfield on April 8, 2014.

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BY JAMES BURGER Californian staff writer jburger@bakersfield.com

Kern County District Attorney Lisa Green claimed victory Tuesday in a pitched battle with the County Administrative Office over her request to beef up staffing.

Supervisors, brushing aside concerns about the county's troubled budget, told Green she could spend $864,059 to hire new attorneys and investigators to prosecute in-prison crimes.

County Administrative Officer John Nilon opposed the request as a premature end-run on the county budget-development process made by a department head who is refusing to match her 2014-15 spending plan to targets set by supervisors.

"This year's may be one of the most contested budgets in recent memory," he said.

Green had argued that the state is paying for the new jobs. But Nilon said Green, who stated she is over her budget target by $1.3 million, could shift current staff into the jobs she wants to fill and get closer to hitting her spending goals.

Supervisor Mike Maggard washed his hands of responsibility for the staffing decision. It's Green's job, he said, to set the right staffing for her department.

His job starts when the District Attorney's office budget comes before him this summer, Maggard said.

If her budget is still larger than it should be, he said, cuts will come.

"She may very well have to lay off these (new workers) or other employees," Maggard said.

WINNING PITCH

Supervisors Mick Gleason and Zack Scrivner said they came into the meeting expecting to vote against Green's request but her arguments and Maggard's thoughts swayed them.

"I have to be strong in saying, 'no.' We have to make a budget and say, 'no,'" Gleason said. "I will not yield until you reach guideline and I'm going to be that way with all departments."

But Gleason said that since the state is backfilling the funding for the new district attorney workers, and 200 criminal cases are waiting to be filed and pursued, he's willing to hold his "no" vote until it is needed at budget time.

"You've convinced me that this is a real need," he told Green. "I'm willing to let you manage that the best way you can within the budget we give you."

But it was clear from Green's interaction with supervisors that she will advocate passionately for her preferred staffing levels at budget time this summer -- even if her spending plan is larger than it should be.

"What is going to occur is you're going to have to take a reduction in the department," Scrivner told her. "Do you acknowledge that layoffs might be necessary?"

Green said criminal case loads have increased and the work demands more from her office. Every worker is critical, she said.

"I don't know where I lay off," she told Scrivner. "This is not the library. This is not animal control. This is crime. This is people being victimized. I am not going to concede that I'm going to have to do layoffs."

BUTTING HEADS

Nilon and his staff disagreed with Green sharply in comments before the board Tuesday.

Supervisors, at Nilon's recommendation, directed county departments to reduce the amount of general county revenue they plan to spend next year by 5 percent.

But he said four public safety departments -- the Kern County Sheriff's Office, Fire Department, Probation and District Attorney -- and Kern Medical Center submitted budgets that were a total of $36 million over budget

If supervisors bless those spending plans, other county departments would likely have to lay off a total of 360 workers.

Administrative Analyst Chase Nunneley said Green is not short on staffing.

"This is the highest level of staffing that the department has ever had," he said.

And the District Attorney's office recently hired five new attorneys -- bringing the department to near full-staffing -- a status the department hasn't enjoyed for years, he said.

Green countered passionately that state prison realignment has spiked crime rates and created a tougher, more violent population of prisoners in jails and prisons.

"This isn't about growing the office. This is about public safety. I've heard every one of you at one time or another (say) public safety is your number one priority," she told supervisors.

There are 2,000 more felony cases to handle, she argued.

"All my attorneys are busy handling the increase in crime. We are the last line of defense for the citizens in Kern County," Green said. "Without attorneys, the victims don't get justice."

That argument was a hard one for supervisors to ignore.

"A good case has been made that she should be able to staff her department," Scrivner said.

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