Beaufort County solicitor Stone to eliminate prosecutor positions, suspend 'mob law'

cconley@islandpacket.comAugust 1, 2013 

Beaufort County's top prosecutor says "budgetary constraints" have forced him to eliminate three new attorney positions and suspend a "mob law" investigation on St. Helena Island.

Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone also will scrap an electronic-monitoring program for offenders enrolled in Drug Court, according to a July 26 letter sent to County Council members and administrators. He already has shuttered a northern Beaufort County office to save money, the letter says.

"These are not proposed cuts," he said Thursday. "I have already made these cuts, and I am in the process of making others. This is me prioritizing money we receive from Beaufort County."

All three eliminated prosecutor positions were vacant. They were new positions to have been filled later this year.

One would have focused on repeat offenders in southern Beaufort County, and the other two would have prosecuted domestic violence, drunken driving and similar cases.

That leaves just one prosecutor to focus on domestic violence over the entire five-county circuit, Stone said. The 14th Circuit spans Beaufort, Jasper, Colleton, Hampton and Allendale counties.

The mob law effort, which allows witnesses to be subpoenaed before a suspect has been indicted for a crime, has been praised for helping authorities gather evidence and support indictments stemming from a June 2012 shooting outside a St. Helena nightclub. Two people were killed and two injured in front of about 50 people. Three people have been arrested.

The mob law investigation was led internally by a senior attorney who has since taken a job in private practice. Stone said the suspension won't affect the prosecution of the suspects.

In an email response to Stone's letter, county administrator Gary Kubic raised several questions about the cuts.

"The changes indicated in your letter are not a result of Beaufort County decreasing your allocation but it is a result of operational services being artificially supported by grant proceeds (that) have ended," Kubic wrote.

County Councilman Bill McBride, who represents St. Helena, said it appears Stone wants the county to make up for the expired grants.

"I think we were more than fair to his budget when we went through the process. We increased his allocation," McBride said. "There are a lot of department heads who did not get what they would have liked to get in their budget."

The Solicitor's Office lost more than $300,000 in state and federal grants that expired within the past year. Stone says the money he receives from Beaufort County is spent to prosecute crimes that occur inside that county.

Word of the cuts comes five weeks after County Council approved a budget that includes about $1.06 million for the Solicitor's Office, compared to $810,000 last year, according to deputy county administrator Bryan Hill.

Stone had asked the council for $1.4 million this year. The additional money was needed to hire four new attorneys -- three of those positions have now been eliminated -- and adopt new digital evidence-sharing programs, among other things, he said at the time. It wasn't clear Thursday if the evidence program is affected.

The council is considering a $100,000 supplemental increase for the Solicitor's Office budget; it received preliminary approval June 24. Councilman Stu Rodman, chairman of the Finance Committee, said a discussion on that supplement is planned for Aug. 7. He said it wasn't clear if the committee would entertain raising that allocation.

Councilman Rick Caporale said he doesn't fault the solicitor for making cuts, noting that it's "extremely difficult" for the council to make decisions about budgets for other elected officials.

If nothing else, Caporale said, this should be a reminder that budget decisions have consequences.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.

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