Deputy county manager part of federal justice reform process

DANA HLAVAC

DANA HLAVAC

KINGMAN - Funding for the criminal justice services is one of the largest parts of the county budget. The state or federal government mandates most of the services, such as indigent defense.

The cost of funding the Criminal Justice System in Mohave County is large and growing at a more than 10 percent annual rate, said Deputy County Manager of Financial Services John Timko. The county's Criminal Justice System cost for the 2009-2010 Fiscal Year will be $41.6 million "Our total property tax revenues for that year are estimated to be $32 million. Justice will cost us 130 percent of all property taxes. With all of our revenue sources coming in for that year, our General Fund expenditures will be $75 million. That Justice System is a 55-percent bill right out of our total General Fund."

"The majority of states have a largely state-funded Justice System," said Dana Hlavac, deputy county manager of Criminal Justice Services.

"Arizona is in the minority. We are one of a handful of states with a completely county-funded Public Defender's Office. In Mohave County, roughly 45 percent of our prosecutors' budget comes from federal and state dollars. The sheriff gets around 21 percent from the feds and state. Indigent defense gets less than 1-10th of 1 percent from the state."

Federal money is available for the system, he said. "Including the federal stimulus money, but most of it is restricted to law enforcement and prosecution which causes counties like Mohave to struggle to balance the system. It's an unfunded mandate that is put right on the backs of local taxpayers," Hlavac said.

There are "roughly a dozen systemic lawsuits" against states due to inequities in Criminal Justice System funding. "Nevada is going through a lawsuit regarding lack of state funding for indigent defense."

Mohave County has been in the forefront of trying to coordinate a balanced systemic approach to justice, Hlavac said. "We are fairly unique with our position of deputy county manager of Criminal Justice Services. While other counties have similar positions, we have been a little more aggressive about taking a systemic approach while maintaining the separation of powers of the judiciary, executive and legislative branches of government. There are times for the separation of powers to keep each branch in check and there are times when we must work together to make sure to optimize the return on what we do with tax dollars," he said.

Hlavac was one of 30 people involved in the criminal justice system across the country that was invited to meet with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on June 24 in Washington, D.C.

"My prior relationship with the National Legal Aid and Defender Association and American Counsel of Chief Defenders led to my invitation to the one-day meeting," Hlavac said. "They also invited a Seattle university professor, some scholastic academia people, some consultants, a lot of heads of defender offices of indigent defense and representatives from the National Criminal Justice Association."

Holder spent the first 20 minutes speaking about his priorities, Hlavac said. "Holder believes that during the later years of President Bill Clinton's administration and throughout President George W. Bush's administration, there has been a strong focus on funding prosecution and law enforcement while ignoring indigent defense issues. This has led to systemic lawsuits concerning funding and caseload issues in several states.

"What I spoke about was the fact that the injection of federal funds into local governments can actually have a negative impact if it is done disproportionately," he said. "When the feds infuse money into one side of a system but not the other side, they are basically telling local governments to increase spending to the unfunded side; essentially, creating an unfunded mandate.

"Attorney General Holder is aware of the problems and is attempting to take steps to be more cognizant of those impacts."

Hlavac illustrated the potential problems of an unbalanced funding system. "The feds could come in and put a thousand additional law enforcement officers to fight crime on our streets in Mohave County if they want to," he said.

"But that would overwhelm our courts, our prosecutors and our public defenders, which means our system would implode. So it is incumbent on the federal government to consider the overall impact on our system and ensure there is adequate funding to support the whole system on any new project that is implemented.

"Attorney General Holder accepts that concept and wants his administration to become aware of that issue and have a more systemic approach.

"One proposal that was discussed is to require a system impact statement for grant applications," Hlavac said. "So if you are going to add more defenders, for instance, what will be the impacts on prosecutors, courts and law enforcement? If you are going to add more police, how will that impact prosecutors, courts and defenders? That (impact statements) will lead to funding to cover all impacts with 'system grants' rather than 'segment grants.'"

Hlavac said Holder is initiating a series of meetings to take place over the next few years to specifically deal with funding issues such as the flows and impacts on local jurisdictions and the inequities they may cause. The next meeting will be held in March, he said.