DA’s Office Advises Staff Changes To Handle Mounting Workload
Published: July 28th, 2022
By: Shawn Magrath

NORWICH – Bogged down by state laws requiring the swift turnover of information to defendants, the Chenango County District Attorney’s Office is seeking a state grant to pay two pending positions that it says would help carry the extra workload.

The DA’s office says that the state's “Discovery Law,” implemented nearly two years ago, has created a tremendous burden on them. Under the law, New York prosecutors must immediately share information with the defendant, including witness statements, 911 recordings, and names and contact information for any person with relevant information.

The state gives district attorney’s offices 20 days to turn over information if the defendant is in custody; 35 days of arraignment if they’re not. The office has no later than 15 days before trial in certain cases involving traffic infractions or petty offenses that don’t carry a prison sentence.

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All this amounts to a hefty onus on the DA’s office, according to Chenango County DA Secretary Faye Pierce, who made an appeal to the Chenango County Safety and Rules Committee last week.

“We’ve had a tremendous increase in arrests. We’re back to pre-COVID, except I think it’s even more so. We’re working overtime. The secretaries are coming in on weekends and staying late,” said Pierce. “We’re just really bombarded and it all comes from the Discovery rules.”

To help, the Chenango County DA’s Office is asking county officials for the creation of two new positions, one being an assistant district attorney to combat the growing number of caseloads; the other being a full-time secretary which would replace a retiring part-time clerk.

The Chenango County DA’s Office is currently in line for a $156,648 state grant offered to prosecutors to adhere to New York’s Discovery Law or assist with pretrial services. The office hopes to use grant funds to pay for its two proposed positions. The same grant was awarded last year and while Pierce said she’s unsure if all the money was spent, it was partly used by the office to pay for a secretary position.

Being grant funded positions, the DA said if funding goes away, then the jobs go away – an agreement county officials make in order to prevent added burden on local taxpayers for grant-funded positions.

But questions remain about what happens when grant money that was awarded last year will be used for something different this year.

“I’m not against filling these positions with this grant money,” said Safety and Rules Committee member Wayne Outwater (Lincklaen). “But the grant money you got last year, are you going to need that money again this year? And where’s that money going to come from?”

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The committee agreed to table the discussion until its August meeting, when the district attorney could be present to give more clarification.

“We need all those answers and the DA might need to come back and explain it to us,” said Outwater.

In a recent survey conducted by the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services, responding district attorney’s offices said hiring additional staff was the most common staffing change caused by the state’s Discovery Law. Of those surveyed, 82 percent said they hired new assistant district attorneys and support staff to coordinate with outside agencies on the transmission of discoverable materials within the required timeframe.