Attorney's office seeks additional $650,000

10% increase not enough, Jessamy tells committee

May 26, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy said yesterday that she will need an additional $650,000 to help reduce a backlog in city courts.

Despite a 10 percent budget increase from Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke -- one of the largest percentage departmental increases in next year's spending plan -- Jessamy told members of the City Council budget and appropriations committee that it will not be enough.

Council members have been pushing for three years to have prosecutors review charges by police officers in order to keep weak cases from clogging the court system. Jessamy initially balked, saying that the plan would require a change in Maryland court rules.

The rule change was recently implemented, and Jessamy agreed to begin the reviews on July 1. But unless more money can be found, she said yesterday, the program will operate only five days a week in four of the city's nine police districts.

"Resources are a real problem," Jessamy said. "Right now, we need them."

Increasing Jessamy's $15.2 million budget gained more urgency in March when The Sun reported that two armed robbery and carjacking suspects were freed after prosecutors took too long to take them to trial. Christopher Wills and Kevin Cox have since pleaded guilty in federal court and are awaiting sentencing.

City Budget Director Edward J. Gallagher challenged Jessamy's budget woes yesterday. Gallagher told council members that Jessamy will receive a $1.6 million increase, almost $300,000 more than she requested in February.

Most of that money, however, will be dedicated to pay raises and bringing her staff to full capacity, Jessamy said.

Office employees earn from $18,000 for secretaries to $87,000 for administrators. Jessamy earns $108,000.

Finding the additional $650,000 for Jessamy will be difficult, Gallagher said, because the city faces $153 million in budget deficits over the next four years because of a stagnant tax base and rising service costs.

"The revenue base is exhausted," Gallagher told the budget committee.

Northeast Baltimore Councilman Martin O'Malley suggested that the Schmoke administration transfer up to $1 million from the city police overtime budget to help pay for the new duties assumed by Jessamy. An initial study showed prosecutors reviewing police charges could weed out about 20 percent of the court cases. That should cut down on the amount of police overtime necessary to attend the trials, O'Malley said.

Southeast Baltimore Councilman Nicholas C. D'Adamo Jr. chastised the Schmoke administration for failing to fully fund the plan.

"I think you're asking them to do the job without the funds," D'Adamo said. "The administration has to look at the police department."

O'Malley pushed Gallagher to agree that if Jessamy shows that the part-time plan saves police overtime, the administration will consider giving her office more money to expand the review effort.

Pub Date: 5/26/99

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