State aims to reduce assistant districtThe state is stepping up pressure on assistant district attorneys to fulfill a requirement they take furlough days that other state employees were required to take last year. The state is notifying them their jobs will be reduced by 20 percent.
By: By Ed Treleven/The Wisconsin State Journal, Superior Telegram
The state is stepping up pressure on assistant district attorneys to fulfill a requirement they take furlough days that other state employees were required to take last year. The state is notifying them their jobs will be reduced by 20 percent.
“If the ADAs do not take the remaining six furlough days, the State of Wisconsin will be required to reimburse six days pay to those employees who sacrificed equally and took all 16 furlough days under their contracts, increasing this fiscal year’s budget shortfall by $11.8 million,” according to Carla Vigue, spokeswoman for the Department of Administration.
The department would prefer to solve the situation with furloughs, she said. But with the current situation, the notices were necessary to ensure $11.8 million in savings by June 30.
Prosecutors said cutting back jobs would weaken already-stretched district attorney offices, in some cases, forcing them to release dangerous criminals because staff would not be available to take them to trial in a timely manner.
“We are already well below staffing that’s necessary for a county of our size,” said Dane County Deputy District Attorney Christopher Freeman. Further reductions, he said, would make it “impossible” not only to complete work on the current caseload but to review new cases.
District Attorney Ismael Ozanne said it’s possible he’ll have to implement a four-day work week while staff reductions are in place.
In 2009, to confront a state budget shortfall, then-Gov. Jim Doyle ordered most state workers to take eight furlough days in the first year of the two-year budget and eight more the following year. Assistant district attorneys, represented by the Association of State Prosecutors (ASP), have yet to take six of the furlough days.
The furloughs were arranged through memorandums of understanding, essentially amendments to employee contracts.
But no memorandum of understanding has been agreed upon for assistant district attorneys, forcing the state to reduce full-time work hours by 20 percent, according to a letter that reached assistant prosecutors’ home mailboxes Friday.
The letter states “this reduction is permanent,” though it was unclear whether it applied to just this fiscal year, which ends June 30, or beyond that date.
In Douglas County, two of the three assistant district attorneys got a different letter; a layoff letter. Because Mark Fruehauf and Shelley Torvinen are probationary prosecutors, who have yet to complete a year with the District Attorney’s Office, they were told they will be fired May 7.
“I was just shocked,” said Fruehauf, who expected a reduction letter instead.
Both he and Torvinen can be rehired the next day at the lesser level — 80 percent for Fruehauf, who is full-time, and 40 percent for Torvinen, who is half time — according to Douglas County District Attorney Dan Blank. But he expressed concern at the game-playing with the prosecution system.
“Sadly it’s going to impact local communities, local victims,” Blank said.
The reduction may force the office to let victimless crimes, such as drug possession or operating while revoked, go uncharged. And the time prosecutors can spend with victims may be shortened. The letters were received just as Victims Rights Week ended. This new move, Blank said, will “reduce victim rights and community safety.”
Assistant district attorneys, who work in each county but are state employees, were working under a union contract that expired in June 2009 but was extended until it was canceled by the state March 13.
At the end of March, the state asked the union to make concessions under the expired contract, and in April it gave 30 days’ notice of layoffs that would be effective May 8.
ASP president David Feiss said another proposed memorandum of understanding is being considered by ASP members that would require furlough days but not a percentage reduction of prosecutors’ jobs. The proposal is not mentioned in the DOA’s notification letter.
No other formal negotiations are ongoing, he said.
Feiss, an assistant district attorney in Milwaukee County, said a union meeting is set for next weekend. Members will vote on the memorandum of understanding by May 3.
“I think people are tremendously concerned,” he said. “From my perspective, there are no good choices. There are only terrible choices.”
But if staff reductions are ordered, he said, “It will severely impact our ability to get our jobs done. It will put the public at risk.
“Dangerous people may be released if we can’t accommodate speedy-trial demands.”
Telegram reporter Maria Lockwood contributed to this report.
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