Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy says she is prioritizing cases for attorneys. (Clarence Tabb Jr. / The Detroit News)
Detroit — Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy said the budget for her office has been slashed to a point she doesn't have enough prosecutors left to staff the Wayne County Circuit Court and may not be able to prosecute some felony cases.
"Pretty soon we're going to be forced with having to choose which cases we can prosecute," Worthy said Wednesday during a 40-minute news conference in which she discussed the budget impasse between her office and Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano.
Worthy said she doesn't have a prosecutor for hearings on personal protection orders, misdemeanors and traffic court cases. Instead, she said she will put her attorneys on cases dealing with violent crimes.
"We have to prioritize where we send our staff," Worthy said.
"I'm not overstating the situation," Worthy added. "Every day is a triage. This is quite serious."
Worthy maintains Ficano promised her $34.3 million for this fiscal year back in 2010.
"He blatantly chose to ignore this agreement," Worthy said.
Ficano said the situation changed and, with plummeting property tax revenues, the county couldn't afford the amount agreed upon in 2010.
He and his staff disputed many of Worthy's claims Wednesday afternoon, saying her case load has gone down. Her office had a felony caseload of 21,807 in 2007 and 16,812 in 2011, Ficano's office said, citing data collected from the Michigan State Court Administrator's office. They also said she had 161 attorneys on staff in 2007 and that number had climbed to 180 in 2012.
Ficano said there was no personal animosity toward Worthy and his staff has tried to work with her in ways to reduce costs to her department.
"It's a matter of numbers," Ficano said. "We wish there was more money. We're committed to public safety. What's unfortunate here is there just isn't enough money."
On Wednesday, for the third straight day, 10 courtrooms in 36th District Court did not have prosecutors to hear traffic and other cases involving violations of state statutes such as drunken driving and driving without insurance or vehicle registration. Some of the cases were adjourned or dismissed. But Worthy said the cases that were dismissed this week will be revisited and some people who had cases dismissed could be in for a surprise. That decision will depend on when the prosecutor's office has enough staff in its warrant division to deal with the dismissed cases.
"We will reissue those cases," Worthy said.
Last week, 22 attorneys, three investigators and a clerical worker under contracts were laid off prompting the decision not to staff 36th District Court, which normally has two assistant prosecutors.
The budget cuts have been a point of contention between Worthy and Ficano. Last year, Ficano proposed a $25.6 million budget for Worthy's office and it was approved by county commissioners. Worthy then sued the county, saying she was promised — and needs — the $34.3 million to properly run the department. Both sides have been discussing an agreement, Ficano said. The lawsuit remains in mediation.
"There's nothing to cut except for people," said Worthy, adding the budgeting restrictions are "impossible" to work under.
"The first function of government is to keep its people safe," she said.
Worthy said she can only focus on prosecuting the most dangerous criminals but soon may not even be able to do that if cuts deepen.
"I am down 52 prosecutors," Worthy said.
Worthy said her office has a serious backlog involving 40 homicide cases, 66 sex crimes and 130 child abuse cases.
"Worthy added the budget issue is also affecting a "very high level investigation with international implications."
During the conference, a video loop played highlighting news stories involving Ficano, including stories about the FBI investigation and recent coverage involving a proposed contract for a driver and security guard for the executive.
The prosecutor criticized Ficano for spending county money on other departments but not on its core responsibilities. Worthy added it is "totally disgusting" to suggest her actions are a publicity stunt and the prosecutor's budget should be a high priority for county officials.
"You have to fund your mandated departments," she said.