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D. A. Warns of Reduction in Prosecutions : Budgets: He may reject misdemeanor cases if a 10% cut is approved. The defender's office vows to turn away clients.


The Ventura County district attorney Tuesday threatened to stop prosecuting some misdemeanor crimes such as battery, petty theft and vandalism if the County Board of Supervisors slashes his office's budget by 10%.

And the county's public defender said he will begin turning away clients if the supervisors decide to cut his office's budget by more than 5%.

Dist. Atty. Michael D. Bradbury and Public Defender Kenneth I. Clayman were among half a dozen county law enforcement officials who pleaded their cases to the supervisors during the board's weekly budget workshop.

The supervisors in February ordered all county department heads to find cuts in their budgets ranging from 10% to 12.5%. However, law enforcement and health services were asked to present two proposals, one reflecting a 7.5% cut and another a 10% reduction.

The workshops are intended to give supervisors suggestions on how to absorb a projected $36-million loss in state funding for fiscal year 1993-94. The board, which is scheduled to adopt a final budget later this month, made no decisions Tuesday.

Bradbury told supervisors that his office could handle a 7.5% cut--a loss of $733,500--but balked at 10%.

"You're basically talking about the beginning of the end of misdemeanor prosecutions," he said, pointing out that some counties have stopped prosecuting misdemeanors.

If the supervisors cut 10% of his budget, Bradbury said, attorneys would be instructed to prosecute only misde meanor crimes involving drunk driving, child abuse, domestic violence, drugs and manslaughter. A misdemeanor conviction carries a maximum sentence of one year in jail.

The result would "erode the quality of life in Ventura County and eventually have a dramatic impact on the crime rate in this county," Bradbury said.

Under a 7.5% scenario, Bradbury said he would have to eliminate four prosecutors, five investigators, an investigative assistant and a small claims adviser. All those jobs are now vacant, he said.

Cutting an additional 2.5% would mean dropping an additional prosecutor, two more investigators and two advocates who work with crime victims. Because of some possible resignations, Bradbury said he was unsure how many layoffs would occur.

At the board meeting earlier Tuesday, Bradbury asked supervisors to hire 101 more employees to handle two federally mandated child support programs. The supervisors decided to discuss that issue at a later meeting.

In an interview after his presentation, Bradbury said: "We can handle 7.5%. Public safety will not be dramatically impacted."

Clayman, however, told supervisors that his office will not be able to absorb anything higher than a 5% cut in the next fiscal year. Any deeper cuts would cause such high caseloads that attorneys would be compelled to refuse cases, and the county would then be required to contract outside lawyers to represent suspects, he said.

The result, he said, would be more costly to the county because private practice attorneys charge more than the public defender's office. Each public defender handles an average of 1,200 cases a year, Clayman said.

"This has been a skinflint office," Clayman told the supervisors. "We have always operated on a shoestring budget."

According to Clayman, slashing his budget by 10% would save the county $188,600, but would ultimately cost the county at least $621,200 in outside legal fees.

Caseloads for county probation officers would also increase if the supervisors decide to cut 10% from the Corrections Services Agency, said Melanie Markley, program administrator for the department.

"Other counties have been doing higher caseloads for some time, but look at their crime rates," Markley said.

Sheriff Larry Carpenter was scheduled to give his presentation to the board Tuesday, but the supervisors ran out of time and rescheduled his report for next week's meeting.

The supervisors made few comments throughout the budget session.

But after the session, Supervisor Susan K. Lacey said it was painful to watch the county managers beg to be spared from cuts.

"Those folks are pleading for their services, but unless the state sends us money, we have to cut," Lacey said.

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