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11:52 PM Sat, Nov. 17th

Increases in dependency, death penalty cases strain county justice department

$700,000 sought from BOS

DANA HLAVAC

DANA HLAVAC

KINGMAN - The economy is hitting the Mohave County Criminal Justice Services Department in an unusual way.

The county courts have seen a 15-percent increase in child dependency, three new death penalty cases this year and a decrease in typical criminal cases, said Deputy County Manager of Criminal Justice Services Dana Hlavac. The department oversees the County Attorney's, Legal Defender's and Public Defender's offices.

The increase in dependency and death penalty cases, because of that the department Monday to request an additional $700,000 from the Board of Supervisors.

The request is not unexpected, Hlavac said. The department's budget this year was 17 percent less than what it spent last year. Hlavac has been tracking spending for the department throughout the year and saw indications in August and September that it would run out of funding before the end of the fiscal year.

The department still has around $120,000 in its budget, and it doesn't expect to see another jump in the number of cases, Hlavac said. However, that funding won't be able to cover the expenses until the end of the fiscal year.

"These are some of the most expensive cases to handle," Hlavac said. The average dependency case costs about $5,300. Child dependency cases involve children who may have been abused or neglected by their parents or guardians.

He theorized that the increase in dependency cases might be because some families that were on the edge of making it before the economy sank have now fallen off that edge.

His office is trying to move more of the dependency cases in-house, which should cut down on the cost for next year's budget, he said.

The cost of a death penalty case varies on the complexity of the case, Hlavac said.

Two of the three death penalty cases this year have been resolved. Ari Feinner, from Bullhead City, who killed his ex-wife and mother-in-law, accepted a plea agreement and is expected to be sentenced soon. Brad Nelson is another death penalty case that was recently resolved. Nelson killed his niece in a hotel room in Kingman.

The last death penalty case moving through the system involves Darrell Ketchner. Ketchner allegedly killed Ariel Allison last summer.

The department is also dealing with two other massive cases. Operation Picture Perfect in April 2008 involved the arrests of several defendants involved in a methamphetamine ring in Kingman.

The other case involves the arrests of several members of two motorcycle clubs as part of a state gang taskforce investigation that began last summer.

The request is a twist on what happened in 2007 to the Public Defender's Office. At that time, the office requested around $703,000 to cover the cost of hiring outside attorneys to help with the office's caseload.

That problem has been fixed, Hlavac said. The number of cases the county has had to farm out to outside attorneys due to caseloads or conflicts has dropped.

This may not be the last of the funding problems the CJS may see this year.

The Arizona Legislature and Gov. Jan Brewer are considering eliminating the Arizona Juvenile Detention System, which could cause an $800,000 hit to county coffers, Hlavac said.

The state is also considering pushing more of the cost of mental health evaluations and other services for defendants onto county court systems.

This could increase the cost the county pays for these services by more than $100,000, he said.

Mohave County is one of the few counties in the state that has managed to keep its budget under control, Hlavac said.

"You can't continue to penalize counties that have done well," he said.