Barnes assails proposed 66 percent cut in victim witness assistance funding Plan would end program, state's attorney warns

March 22, 1996|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Carroll County State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes says a proposed 66 percent budget cut for the Victim Witness Assistance Unit would shut down an indispensable program.

The loss of more than $56,000 would eliminate two salaries in the three-person unit, and the prosecutor plans to plead his case for more money before a county budget review hearing tomorrow night in Westminster.

"Much of what [the victim witness unit] does is mandated by state law," said Mr. Barnes, enumerating services provided to witnesses and victims.

Victims and witnesses must be notified of bond postings, pending trial, hearing dates, trial dates, post-conviction reviews, sentence modifications, three-judge panel reviews, parole hearings and prison releases, he said.

They also must be advised of their rights, such as the right to present victim-impact statements to the court.

"Every time there is a postponment or a delay, they must be contacted," Mr. Barnes said. "In many instances, such as spousal abuse cases, one of our staff members [is] right there to explain what will happen in the courtroom, even to walk beside the victim into the courtroom to provide emotional support."

Without three employees, Mr. Barnes said the workload would fall on his staff of 12 prosecutors, who already are struggling with ever-growing caseloads.

Last year, he said, 1,233 new Circuit Court cases were opened and 679 cases were reopened for parole violations and sentence modifications. That does not include more than 900 new and old District Court cases, plus numerous appearances each prosecutor must make in court for motions hearings, continuances, postponment requests or when a defendant fails to appear, Mr. Barnes said.

"Our office was $9,000 under budget in fiscal 1995, and we're struggling to stay at budget this year, mainly because of $8,000 spent for extraditions that could not be anticipated," Mr. Barnes said.

The Victim Witness Assistance Unit has trimmed costs in the past two years by $110,000, he said.

"We have staff members buying their own computers, desks, file cabinets and bringing them into the office so they can do a better job for the people of Carroll County," Mr. Barnes said.

"That's why I'll be resisting the proposed cuts with every resource I have."

Pub Date: 3/22/96

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