Solicitor's Office requests money for more attorneys

zmurdock@beaufortgazette.comApril 28, 2014 

Duffie Stone

The 14th Circuit Solicitor's Office needs five more lawyers and an electronic case-management system to clear its backlog, according to Solicitor Duffie Stone.

To pay for the additions, Stone is requesting an additional $420,000 from Beaufort County for next fiscal year, which starts July 1.

"At status quo, the backlog will never go away, it will only be added to," he said. "Within 18 months, with these (new) resources, we could totally eliminate the backlog."

Stone presented the request Monday to County Council's Finance Committee, which will discuss the county budget during the next month.

The increase is nearly identical to an increase Stone requested for this fiscal year, which was denied by County Council, he said. The office received $1.06 million from the county this year.

The additional attorneys would include a vacant, existing assistant solicitor's position, three new senior prosecutors and a third career-criminal prosecutor, according to Stone's presentation.

Those attorneys will help the office tackle 367 cases that have been pending for more than 18 months and another 215 that have been pending for more than a year, according to the presentation.

The office has to dispose of those cases to comply with a state Supreme Court order to immediately schedule all cases older than 18 months and eliminate such backlogs, Stone said.

On average, almost 2,500 cases come through the office each year, Stone said. With the one part-time and seven full-time attorneys now assigned to Beaufort County General Sessions court, Stone's staff can, at most, prosecute 2,250 cases, he added.

GOING PAPERLESS

Stone also wants to switch to an electronic case-management system that would make the judicial process -- from arrest to verdict -- nearly paperless, eliminating hours spent at the photocopier and space needed for storage, Stone has said.

The system would cost between $90,000 and $110,000 up front, to be paid for with drug money seized across the circuit, Stone said.

He hopes to have the counties in his circuit pay the yearly maintenance costs of about $90,000. Beaufort County, with the largest population of the five counties, would pay the most, about $57,600.

However, there's a lot of competition for dollars from a limited county budget, Councilman Rick Caporale said.

Instead of establishing new positions, he said the county could consider a one-time grant to hire temporary help. Then the county could study how that affects the backlog, Caporale said.

"You have what would amount to a 40 percent increase here, and that's hard to take," he said.

Follow reporter Zach Murdock at twitter.com/IPBG_Zach.

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