CoCo considers not prosecuting all petty crimes

May 11, 2009 6:37:26 PM PDT
The Contra Costa County district attorney has come up with a new plan for prosecuting misdemeanors. The D.A.'s Office has been hit hard by budget cuts, and some crimes could go unpunished.

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Contra Costa County District Attorney Robert Kochly says he has the legal authority to decide which misdemeanors to prosecute, if it comes to that.

At the superiors' Public Protection Committee meeting, Kochly outlined ideas for dealing with budget cuts he says will force him to give up prosecuting certain misdemeanors.

He says transferring misdemeanors to city attorneys is not an efficient way to go.

"It certainly isn't, or wouldn't be cost-effective for cities going out and doing any of this on their own, as far as I can see," said Kochly.

Kochly says using volunteer attorneys is not a desirable solution. Changing the diversion program system to reduce attorney involvement is an idea that needs more review.

Kochly sent a memo to Contra Costa police chiefs last month saying beginning May 4th, he could no longer afford to prosecute some misdemeanors like non-DUI traffic offenses, petty theft and assault and battery.

After three surprise resignations and his own 10 percent pay cut, Kochly said he could keep the status quo until January.

Supervisors say even if a short-term solution is found, there are long-term problems.

"I mean, when the average price of a home in Contra Costa County is half of what it was two years ago, and our healthcare and our pension costs are going up, those two have created a perfect storm," said Contra Costa County Supervisor John Gioia.

Taxpayers' advocate Kris Hunt is critical of the supervisors' priorities, saying they shouldn't have just approved extending the firefighter pension and health plans.

"The county administrator called those expenses unsustainable, yet, it comes down to 'what are your priorities," said Hunt.

Supervisors are aiming for a plan to save all misdemeanor prosecutions by the end of August.

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