Crime & Courts

Courts want $2.3 million more from Mecklenburg County

The Mecklenburg court system wants more prosecutors and clerks, better salaries and overdue technology – and it’s asking for $2.29 million in new money from county taxpayers to get them.

The state’s largest judicial circuit is losing personnel and efficiency due to a growing workload, poor pay and inadequate technology, Trial Court Administrator Todd Nuccio told commissioners Tuesday.

Whether the county agrees to pay the money remains to be seen. County Manager Dena Diorio told commissioners her recommendation for a budget supplement for the courts remains “under development.” Currently, the Mecklenburg courts receive about $3.5 million from the county, or 11 percent of their overall budget.

With the Republican commissioners absent, Dumont Clarke, a Democrat and a lawyer, pounded away at what he described as the lack of state support for criminal justice. He singled out Gov. Pat McCrory’s and the Republican-led legislature’s claims of fiscal prudence while the criminal justice system is “crumbling beneath them.”

“Why does the county continue to bail out the state when it is blatantly ignoring the needs of the court system?” he asked.

Mecklenburg has 16 percent of the state’s violent crime, 10 percent of its population but only 7 percent of statewide court appropriation for personnel. Based on the state’s workplace formulas, the county is short two superior court judges, 35 clerks and 22 magistrates, among other personnel needs.

Nuccio told the Observer that the additional county money would only cover “basic, core needs.” They include:

▪ Pay increases totaling $1.1 million for prosecutors and public defenders. District Attorney Andrew Murray said the money would allow him to raise starting pay for assistant DAs from $45,000 to $52,000. The national median for entry-level prosecutors is more than $58,000. Murray said the increase in county money would also help him raise pay for more veteran prosecutors who now are leaving his office for private-sector jobs.

▪ $510,000 to hire additional clerks to handle gun permits and child support; a new domestic-violence prosecutor, and three new positions in the Trial Court Administrator’s Office to help oversee the county’s self-service program, juvenile court and overall case management. Due to a change in state law, the applications for gun permits have grown from 136 a month to more than 2,400, Nuccio said.

▪ $266,000 for technological upgrades in the courtrooms and courthouse offices – from wireless service and new evidence displays to equipment as basic as scanners and shredders for the clerk’s office.

Commissioner Vilma Leake pushed back at Nuccio – saying the board could not pay for items not available to county employees.

“Why don’t you lobby the legislature,” she asked.

Nuccio replied, “We’ve been doing it for 20 years.”

Michael Gordon: 704-358-5095, @MikeGordonOBS