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For the week of Sept. 8, 1999 through Sept. 14, 1999

Local attorneys protest proposed county prosecutor budget increase

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County Commissioners set a final budget Monday for the fiscal year 1999/2000 at $11,929,138, but left open an option to lower this figure due to a protest of a proposed increase in the prosecuting attorney’s budget.

The prosecuting attorney’s office was allocated a budget of $370,066 last year. Prosecuting Attorney Doug Werth proposed this year that this figure be increased to $424,785 in order to fund the hiring of a third deputy prosecutor.

During public comment at yesterday’s hearing, Hailey attorney Keith Roark said he and his associates, Doug Nelson and Jim Phillips, were perplexed about the rationale behind the hiring of a third deputy.

"This is an unholy, unwarranted increase in budget," Roark said in light of the case load handled by the prosecuting attorney’s office.

Roark said he was concerned that three years ago the board approved a request by Werth to have misdemeanor cases handled outside his office. Roark said that for the past three years misdemeanor cases had been handled on a private contract basis. He said that now Werth wants to change the system so that the prosecuting attorney’s office will again prosecute misdemeanor offenses, requiring the hiring of a third deputy.

"My concern is not with weakening the prosecuting attorney’s office," Roark said. "It’s important to the public welfare to have the best office the county can afford."

After referring to instances in which Werth allegedly mishandled the resources of the prosecuting attorney’s office, Roark said, "I’m not here to criticize Doug Werth, but I can say that in my mind he is truly incompetent in running that office whether he has one deputy or three."

Roark said that Werth was performing a disservice to the tax payers of Blaine County by hiring a third deputy.

"Werth has demonstrated he cannot run the prosecuting attorney’s office, and to ask taxpayers to subsidize his incompetence is a mistake," Roark told the board.

Nelson added to Roark’s argument that Blaine County has half the crime rate and twice the deputies in the prosecuting attorney’s office as other counties in Idaho.

Werth was not present at Monday’s hearing. Commissioner Harlig said that the prosecuting attorney should have the opportunity to respond to public comments made during the budget hearing before the board makes a final decision regarding the budget.

In an interview following the budget hearing, Werth responded to the charges raised against him.

He said it had been over 10 years since the county added a deputy to the prosecuting attorney’s office.

Second, Werth said, the number of civil issues involved in Blaine County far surpasses that of any other county of equivalent size in Idaho.

"You can’t compare legal issues and litigation in other counties on planning and zoning and civil issues with Blaine County," he said. "Comparing Blaine County to other rural counties is like comparing apples to oranges."

Werth said that the third deputy will primarily handle civil cases that have resulted from numerous lawsuits filed against the county involving planning and zoning issues.

Responding to charges that his office is changing the system by taking on misdemeanor prosecutions, Werth said that Hailey requested to have his office handle the city’s misdemeanor prosecutions.

Werth said that under state statute, county prosecutors are not required to prosecute city misdemeanors and that in smaller jurisdictions throughout the state, cities have to contract with the county prosecutor’s office or private attorneys to prosecute misdemeanor cases.

Werth said his office agreed to contract with the city of Hailey to prosecute its misdemeanor cases for $27,000, which is less than what private attorneys would contract the services for. Werth added that the money will go back to the county rather than to private attorneys.

"The only reason I indicated a willingness to prosecute Hailey city’s misdemeanors is because of the number of police officers that requested that my office handle their cases," Werth said. "The bottom line is Hailey will get better legal services for less money."

Werth said that many inefficiencies result from having misdemeanor cases split up and prosecutions handled by more than one agency.

The commission will hold a special meeting to discuss the budget for the prosecuting attorney’s office and also to discuss the county’s public defender contract tomorrow at 2 p.m. at the old Blaine County Courthouse.


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