Transforming the county attorney’s office in six months - The Explorer: Opinion

Transforming the county attorney’s office in six months

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Richard D. Brinkley

Posted: Wednesday, August 7, 2013 4:00 am

Lando Voyles, County Attorney, Pinal County, encountered more than he expected upon taking office. First, he had to replace a culture that under his predecessor, James Walsh, placed an emphasis on plea bargaining, i.e., plea bargaining to the extent that over 60 percent of defendants, regardless of crimes committed, received probation.

In the first six months, Voyles’ office successfully prosecuted 50 mandatory prison cases, the same types of cases that Voyles’ predecessor pled out for probation.  Worse, upon taking office, Voyles discovered an abandoned office that contained several hundred cases. His predecessor had not reviewed these cases. 

A review of the cases determined that the statute of limitations had expired. As a result, not only did several hundred potential criminals escape justice but also several hundred victims had been denied justice.  The culture of the Pinal County Attorney’s Office under Voyles’ predecessor was not pro-prosecution, was not pro-victim. Lando Voyles transformed the County Attorney’s office into a pro-prosecution, pro-victim culture; no longer would victims be denied justice.

First, Voyles looked at the child support unit in his office. The State of Arizona is mandated to have a Child Support unit by statute. Pinal County is not. Further, Voyles discovered the attorneys under his predecessor carried half the case load that state attorneys carried.  Voyles gave the child support responsibilities back to the state, saving budget monies for criminal prosecutions.

Second, Voyles divided Pinal County into several sectors with specialty attorneys assigned each sector. In some sectors, Voyles imbedded the Pinal County attorney in the local police department, providing a sense of responsibility, ownership and team with local law enforcement. In effect, Voyles is leveraging his department resources to work more closely with all law enforcement departments. According to Voyles, other counties and Arizona State University are studying this model, to model other offices similarly.

Third, central to creating sectors within Pinal County with an attorney responsible for each sector, Voyles streamlined criminal case submission processing. Voyles described it as switching from horizontal to vertical processing.  

Under his predecessor, cases were submitted for review to a central review attorney.  If a case was returned to the referring attorney with questions, the referring attorney answered the questions but a different review attorney handled the second review. If a third review were necessary, a third attorney would handle the case.  It often took weeks, or months for the submitting law enforcement officers to learn who was handling the case review.  Now, the county is divided into regions with one attorney per region who handles their specific cases through, often from the crime scene through trial.

Fourth, Voyles announced in April of this year, the creation of a Veteran’s program within the County Attorney’s Office. Modeled after a similar program in Oklahoma, this program is a first in Arizona. The veteran’s program allows the Pinal County Attorney’s Office to take a veteran’s circumstances into consideration when determining criminal charges.  

The intent of the program is to divert, when possible, veterans involved with the criminal justice system from prison and place them in appropriate rehabilitative alternative program. The program offers veteran offenders a treatment option supervised by the Pinal County Attorney’s Office Veterans Program.  Similarly, Voyles initiated a Family Advocacy Center in San Tan Valley, where an abused child and/or mother can gain refuge. Again, whether for veterans or for the abused, justice for victims will not be ignored.

According to Voyles, the staff changes he made transformed the Pinal County Attorney’s Office into a more modern and efficient process. Prior to taking office, there were 45 attorneys; today there are 41. Similarly, there were 2 paralegals under Voyles’ predecessor; today, there are 12.

Upon taking office, Voyles petitioned the Board of Supervisors for additional budget to transform his office into a more efficient and effective operation. The board approved an increase of approximately $1.5 million. Next year, Voyles predicts his office will be well below that budget increase.

And Voyles has not forgotten his rural Texas roots. To date, he has donated more than $248,191 to rural Pinal County community organizations from Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) funds, used to lift up victims and to help prevent our Pinal family children from joining gangs and doing drugs.

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Welcome to the discussion.

1 comment:

  • John Flanagan posted at 4:29 pm on Wed, Aug 7, 2013.

    John Flanagan Posts: 329

    Well, many of us are not fans of plea bargaining, but however you look at, lawyers, judges, prosecutors, and defendants often use it. I am surprised it is only 60 percent in Pinal County. Some jurisdictions are much higher. The reasons are usually about the evidence and the expense of a jury trial. The plea bargaining system will always exist.

     

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