Members of the Genesee County District Attorney’s Office say they need the county’s help to hire more employees due to recent changes to discovery demand rules in criminal cases.
Lawrence Friedman, district attorney, and Melissa Cianfrini, first assistant district attorney, gave a department review to the Public Service Committee on Monday. They say they hope to hire another assistant district attorney and a paralegal.
These new positions stem from recent New York State reform that increases defense counsel’s access to information about the state’s case. Prosecutors will be required to turn over evidence much earlier, which means a greater workload for district attorneys and more strain on county resources to prosecute criminals.
“We weren’t having to do trial-ready work for every single case,” Cianfrini said. “That’s really putting the cart before the horse in terms of how much this is changing how we’re practicing law in the criminal law sector.”
Cianfrini said the rules shorten the timeline to file a discovery demand from 30–90 days after arraignment down to 15 days. Now, a defendant cannot enter a plea until the discovery information is provided, so they can understand all of the evidence being brought against them.
The proposed assistant district attorney and paralegal positions would take on the 38-percent increase in the number of cases handled by the DA Office. Caseload is expected to jump from 354 cases to 407 cases annually for each assistant district attorney.
The role of the prospective paralegal is to review documents and enter information into a database called the Digital Evidence Management System, an electronic service for information storage and sharing. The paralegal would further reduce preparation time for attorneys.
“With these new requirements, our feeling is we have to spend a lot more time on a case than the other side does,” Friedman said.
DA Office staff members are concerned about the strict deadlines and punishments for not complying with the new rules. They face the risk of having criminal cases dismissed if they are not ready for trial in time.
Legislators Gordon Dibble and Marianne Clattenburg were in favor of hiring more DA Office staff before Jan. 1, when the rules go into effect. Committee members sought more information about how much funding the county would need to offer for these new employees.
“For a county our size, is there a trend analysis that says ‘this is how many cases an ADA should handle’ so that we could have a benchmark to help educate us?” Shelly Stein asked. “I think that’s probably the biggest step here.”