County prosecutor and staff stay busy

December 5, 2011
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When he gave his annual report to the county’s Legislative and Human Resources Committee, Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth said his office has an annual budget of $7.7 million, with about $5.9 million coming from the county and the remainder coming from the federal government for the county’s Family Law Division.

Forsyth also said his office has 75 employees. Among those are 33 attorneys. “It’s really not that many attorneys,” he said. “At first blush, it sounds like a lot of money and a lot of people, but it’s really not.”

To make his case before members of the committee, who get updates from every county department and office each year, Forsyth compared the number of felony convictions his office had with those of other prosecutors in other counties. He specifically focused his comparison on Oakland County, the state’s largest county with twice the population of Kent at 1.2 million and an annual budget of $18.5 million for its prosecutor’s office.

According to data Forsyth got from the 2011 Annual Survey of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Coordinating Council, the Oakland office had 4,613 felony convictions. Oakland County has 95 assistant prosecutors; the office averaged 49 convictions for each one. In comparison, the 33 Kent APAs had 3,220 convictions, for a per-attorney average of 98 — twice the number of Oakland’s APAs.

The same data showed the cost per-taxpayer for each conviction in Oakland County was $15.36, while the same cost in Kent was $12.67.

“When you look at the data, Kent probably gets more for its money,” said Forsyth. “We have 33 assistants; Oakland has 95.”

The next lowest per-taxpayer cost for a conviction in the seven-county comparison was Macomb County’s $13.22. “My staff does a really nice job for the people of Kent County,” said Forsyth.

Forsyth expects his office will close out this year with 94 guilty verdicts in district court and 87 in circuit court. His office is likely to have 3,300 guilty pleas made in circuit court before this year ends. All those numbers are down slightly from last year.

County Commissioner Harold Mast asked Forsyth if fewer crimes have been committed in the county this year than last year. “That’s a hard one to answer. I get that question a lot,” he said. “Warrants are down. There are fewer drug crimes. But it’s been fairly steady.”

Forsyth expects 4,400 felony warrants will be issued this year, about 150 less than in 2010. He said about 100 of those warrants will result in a circuit-court trial and one of four convicted felons will be locked up, while the rest will go into an alternative program.

The office also expects to issue 4,600 misdemeanor warrants this year, and roughly 120 of those will be tried in district court. Both numbers are also slightly down from last year. “In a normal year, we will write about 9,000 warrants; about 4,000 of those will be for a felony,” said Forsyth, who added that three attorneys in his office review warrants.

The number of circuit-court appeal briefs APAs will write is expected to rise by about 10 this year to 129; the number of state Supreme Court briefs is also expected to be higher this year at 36. Forsyth said his office has four attorneys who only write appeals. “You have to have a certain mindset to do that because all you do all day is read and write,” he said. “They do a great job. We probably file about 250 (briefs) a year.”

The office’s Family Law division has an annual budget of $1.76 million. Many of its cases involve establishing paternity and setting child-support payments. The division is expected to have more than 3,600 of those cases this year, roughly 200 more than in 2010. More than 3,800 cases of support and paternity should close this year, about 100 more than a year ago. Another 2,260 are pending.

Family Law will settle 83 percent of its support cases, which exceeds the federal government’s goal of 80 percent. The division also expects to close 96 percent of its paternity cases this year, which also tops the federal goal of 90 percent.

The office began the current fiscal year with four fewer full-time positions than it had in 2010; another full-time position was reduced to part-time because of budget cuts. Two full-time APA positions were eliminated as part of the office’s downsizing.

“I tell the staff the most important thing we do is not what we do after we serve a warrant,” said Forsyth. “It’s what we do before we file one.”

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