MINOT, N.D. (AP) — The Ward County State's Attorney's Office expects to be functioning with only about half of its assigned staff by the end of March, highlighting a prosecutor recruitment and retention problem in western North Dakota, officials said.
Rozanna Larson, the Ward County State's Attorney, said her office will have openings in four of its eight assistant attorney positions with the looming departure of an attorney at the end of the month, the Minot Daily News reported.
"We are just going to have to shift how we are going to attack the cases. My concern is things slipping through the cracks as far as getting out discovery to the defendants," Larson said. "Our goal is to get it out within a week. I hope that we can still maintain that."
Larson noted the vacancies happen because veteran prosecutors find better pay in larger communities or choose to work in private practice.
Last month, Larson pleaded with the Ward County Commission to increase the pay of an assistant attorney who was assigned with supervising contract attorneys, she said. The office plans to hire contract attorneys to fill the staffing void. Contract attorneys would mostly deal with trials for some of the property, traffic and drug offenses. Full-time staff would still be handling pretrial work on those cases.
The commission agreed to the pay raise after Larson argued that without it, the supervising attorney would be paid less than the contract attorneys. She noted if the office lost its most experienced assistant attorney over salary, it would critically impact the ability to keep up with cases.
"We won't be able to function. We can barely function right now," Larson said. "We work 70 to 80 hours a week ... It gets to be a public safety concern, too, because if we have to dismiss cases or we can't take the proper time to prepare for cases, then the court has no choice but to dismiss or the jury acquit."
Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com