The Department of Law has made a few staffing changes in response to Petersburg concerns about the state’s prosecution of criminal cases.
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In a letter to Peterburg mayor Al Dwyer earlier this month, deputy attorney general Richard Svobodny outlined several personnel moves between the district attorneys offices in Ketchikan and Juneau. The department has changed a budget analyst position to an attorney’s job in the Juneau office. That change will mean an increase in the number of prosecuting attorneys in the Juneau office from three people to four. Svobodny writes the increase will “aid Petersburg and the rest of Southeast in holding violators of the criminal law responsible for their conduct.”
“Four attorneys is still less than the number of public defenders but it will increase the ability to respond to different courts by 25 percent,” Svobodny said in an interview with KFSK radio this month.
The assistant district attorneys argue for the prosecution in criminal cases while public defenders represent the accused. Petersburg officials have repeatedly complained about short staffing in the D.A.’s office, a high dismissal rate for court cases and lack of communication with local police. The community sent letters to Governor Sean Parnell about the concerns this year. Parnell talked with the Department of Law resulting in the personnel changes.
“My understanding is we will have more manpower available for Petersburg once that reclassification is complete,” Parnell said in an interview with KFSK in early June. “I think that’s the short term solution, I think longer term there’ll be some other perhaps budgetary items that need to be taken care of, both for, for a number of Southeast offices frankly, including Petersburg,” he added.
The staffing changes in Juneau leave the Department of Law with a budget shortfall, according to Svobodny’s July 6th letter. He said the state will figure out how to pay for the position that is not in the budget. Svobodny said criminal cases in Southeast will continue to be judged individually and on their own merits. “There won’t be any change in that, I mean those are fundamental principles of both the Alaska and the U.S. Constitution. Those things are not going to change. It will hopefully increase the amount of time that lawyers can spend on each case,” Svobodny said.
The Juneau district attorney’s office is responsible for prosecuting charges filed by police in Juneau as well as Petersburg, Haines, Yakutat and many smaller communities stretched across Northern Southeast.