Knoxville — Expenses for the Marion County Attorney's Office jumped by $63,558.08 in fiscal year 2011-12, over the prior year. County Attorney Ed Bull has an explanation for that.
Total expenses were at $409,331.01 for FY11-12. They were $345,772.93 in FY10-11 and has steadily increased since FY05-06, when expenses were $268,116.01. Bull was elected in November 2010 and took office in January 2011, halfway through FY10-11.
According to Bull, $17,000 was budgeted this past fiscal year for the trials of Patrick Dudley, Michael Miller, Terry Cobbins and Patrick Edouard. Though the Attorney General's Office assisted with trials, the County still must bear the costs of litigation. The State does not pay for expert witnesses for preparatory time.
For instance, in the murder trials of Miller and Cobbins, who conspired to kill the same victim, the State Medical Examiner was deposed. Cost of the deposition? $900. The same deposition was used for both cases, which means the County incurred this expense only once.
In the Edouard trial, Bull said the County paid approximately $7,000 in prep costs for expert witnesses. Expert witnesses are considered independent contractors who don't have a common fee structure. They set their own rates and average between $200-400 per hour.
The Marion County Attorney's Office tried six cases in 2008, 2009 and 2010. Since Bull was sworn in, there have been 15 cases tried by the office.
In addition to trying more cases, Bull has added staff. Most recently, he announced the hiring of Bobbi Bassett as a part-time data entry employee. He has also added victim/witness coordinator Krissy Link and a third assistant county attorney, Ben Hayek.
Hayek, as previously reported, offers civil litigation advice to the County. He also handles simple misdemeanors.
There are three assistant county attorneys in the Marion County office. Nicole Olson and Tiffany Kragnes are the others. Each assistant county attorney makes between $50,000-60,000 annually.
In Iowa, Sioux County's population is roughly the same as Marion County's. The same office in that county has one full-time assistant that makes $47,500 annually. The survey can be found at http://www.iowa-icaa.com/Salary%20Surveys/SalarySurvey%202011%202012.pdf. The assistants all live outside of Marion County. Bull said they could be making more in their home counties, but they are dedicated to Marion County and keeping its residents safe.
"I'm doing my best to have the highest quality attorneys to work for the citizens," Bull said.
Bassett's duties will be assisting the office as it transitions into a paperless system. In the future, all filings done within the court system, including the County Attorney's Office, will be done electronically. There will be no hard copies of any motions, orders or other paperwork.
Bull said his expenses have also included technological upgrades. This has included laptop computers (to be used in the courtroom), a scanning copier, a new television (the old one still had dials), a scanning copier, a new computer server and a closed-circuit television system. This is used when a minor testifies in an abuse case. Bull said experts find that forcing children to testify in the same room as a defendant can cause further mental health trauma. The equipment was immediately used after purchase in the Dudley sexual abuse case.
A grant for approximately $18,000 was received to help cover the costs of the closed-circuit equipment. The office has also received scholarships for further education with the Office of Drug Control Policy in Des Moines. In October, members of the office, as well as the Knoxville and Pella Police Departments, will attend the training. WIthout the scholarship, the cost would have been around $800 per department.
The number of cases handled by the office have been large. There were 509 handled last year and the office is already over 500 for 2012. Those figures do not include simple misdemeanors, juvenile cases, mental health and substance abuse matters.
Not every criminal complaint brought to him by law enforcement has resulted in a criminal case. Bull said that while officers have to have probably cause before filing charges, his standard must go beyond.
"I have to have a reasonable probability there will be a conviction at trial," Bull said.
Beyond all that has been mentioned, the office has also begun outreach programs regarding sexual assault, drug endangered children and truancy.
When Bull ran in 2010, he promised to make Marion County the safest county in Iowa and that he would plea bargain from a position of strength and protecting the rights of victims. He said he has actually come in under budget, and has been grateful for the support the Marion County Board of Supervisors, which approves his budget, have shown him. He considers it a commitment to citizen safety.
Bull's goals for the office remain to be respected by his peers on the defense side, to have the pride of Marion County citizens and for criminals to fear his office. He feels he is not there yet, but getting there.
Actual expenses/revenues for the Marion County Attorney's Office
05-06 Expenses: $268,116.01, Revenue: $1,273.80
06-07 Expenses: $284,851.17, Revenue: $1,350
07-08 Expenses: $301,595.47, Revenue: $2,234.38
08-09 Expenses: $317,902.10, Revenue: $910.01
09-10 Expenses: $324,837.29, Revenue: $264.20
10-11 Expenses: $345,772.93, Revenue: $1,640
11-12 Expenses: $409,331.01, Revenue: $18,793.61