Jessamy warns of `urgent' budget shortfall

Without $2.7 million, prosecutors, staff could be cut, she says

February 14, 2002|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Baltimore State's Attorney Patricia C. Jessamy announced yesterday that her office is in a "crisis" that could cause a "critical threat to public safety" because of an anticipated loss of $2.7 million in state and federal funding.

Without that money, she said, her office risks losing 21 prosecutors and 31 support staff, including 14 lawyers who prosecute gun crimes.

But city and state officials said it's too early in the state's budgetary process to tell whether the state's attorney's office will get the $1.7 million it has requested from the General Assembly to pay prosecutors in the gun unit.

Officials also say the rest of the state's attorney's projected shortfall, which comes from a federal grant, will be $204,000 -- far less than the $1 million Jessamy reported.

Jessamy disclosed the problems at a monthly local court reform meeting -- the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council -- which she has been criticized for not attending by Mayor Martin O'Malley, who said last month that he was tempted to bring a cardboard cutout of her.

"This is an urgent matter that needs the council's immediate attention," Jessamy said. "Yesterday I was notified that the $1.7 million is not in the fiscal year 2003 supplementary budget as hoped."

Judge Stuart R. Berger, chairman of the council, stopped Jessamy mid-sentence and told her to switch topics and speak about her item on the agenda, which was new rules governing disclosure of evidence to defense attorneys.

Jessamy continued speaking about funding until Berger cut her off again. The council did not vote on whether to support her efforts to secure funding.

After the meeting, Jessamy said that last year the state's attorney's office received $1.7 million from the state's supplemental budget for the gun prosecutors. She said laying them off could result in more violence in the city.

Michael Sarbanes, a policy adviser to Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, said the governor's budget has not yet passed, and the supplemental budget will not be worked out until after that happens.

He said Jessamy's $1.7 million request is on a long list to be considered for the supplemental budget.

"She's concerned about this, which is understandable, but at this stage in the budget process it's too early to tell what will happen," Sarbanes said. "This year is a tougher budget than usual. If she was concerned other years, it would make sense she's concerned this year, too."

Lawmakers in Annapolis are working on trimming $177 million from Glendening's $22.2 billion budget for next year.

Deputy Mayor Jeanne D. Hitchcock, who attended yesterday's meeting, said the mayor has requested the state funds for the state's attorney's office and will continue to try to secure them.

"We are working as diligently as possible to get the $1.7 million just as we have in past years," Hitchcock said. "We are waiting for the appropriations process to work itself out. There is no indication that's not going to happen."

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