Overworked federal prosecutors finally are going to get a little help. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno has authorized 18 additional attorneys and six new support staff members for the Central California office, which is based in Los Angeles and serves a massive jurisdiction--Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and four other counties. The new hires are long overdue.
U.S. Atty. Nora M. Manella made a good case for the additional prosecutors. Her request received backing in Washington from Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Gary A. Condit (D-Ceres). The two were successful in lobbying Reno to boost the number of prosecutors across the state. A few more were designated for Sacramento and San Diego, but it was Los Angeles that benefited most. Based on population, the amount of crime and just plain fairness, even more are needed in the Los Angeles jurisdiction.
The jurisdiction also requires a boost because of the tough and complicated cases frequently prosecuted, such as the Charles Keating investment fraud, the civil rights case stemming from the police beating of Rodney G. King and the case involving a white separatist plot to blow up Los Angeles' First African Methodist Episcopal Church and Orange County synagogues. Add to those challenges the region's huge increase in drug cases.
New York and Miami have similar crime problems and similarly rigorous federal case lists filled with drug trafficking, bank fraud, tax evasion and immigration abuse. But those jurisdictions boast one prosecutor for every 25,000 people, while the L.A. district must make do with one prosecutor for every 91,000 people. That disparity discourages equal enforcement of the law.
The newly approved increase in prosecutors is also a recognition of the numerous cases that the Los Angeles office had been forced to decline because of the severe staff shortage, among them repeat violent offenses, environmental crime, health care fraud and financial scams.
Equal justice requires an equal potential for prosecution across the nation. That will require still more federal prosecutors in Los Angeles.