Witness fees and indigent offender moneys vulnerable

Dan Ousley

Wallowa County District Attorney Dan Ousley says he is in no way trying to influence anyone's vote in the upcoming Jan. 28 income tax election, but expresses some concerns about the impact on his office if proposed budgetary reductions go into effect.

Proposed reductions in complimentary state general-funded agencies such as the Oregon State Police, juvenile departments, court systems and correction facilities can only alter the way Ousley now does business.

"It can only change the focus of what we can do and the kinds of things we can process," he says. He anticipates remaining busy in his position, but being busy on more selective cases which can be processed through the system.

Rural Oregon counties such as Wallowa County do not have deputy district attorneys so will not be liable for that major cost saving cut proposed across the state if Measure 28 fails on Jan. 28. But the impact will be extensive.

Ousley anticipates that all moneys for witness fees will be lost. No money will be available from state coffers to pay the minimal 8 cents per mile for witness mileage and $5 per day for witness fees. He suggests that the fees are mandated and could become the responsibilities of the county.

One major unknown, says the district attorney, is how the monetary cutbacks will impact his ability to prosecute child support evaders. At present his office has the capability to cite evaders into court, implement show cause action, pursue diversions or even prosecute as high as a Class C Felony, but how those actions will be enforced following what is anticipated to be extensive budgetary constraints is yet to be seen.

How court cases will be handled for indigent offenders spells out another question mark. The Constitution of the United States requires that every citizen has the right to be represented by an attorney, but state funds to hire such an attorney, from what Ousley has learned, will be depleted by March 1.

Ousley foresees, because of anticipated layoffs with Oregon State Police personnel, delays in the prosecution of cases. Necessary evidence for prosecution may be slow in coming because of backlogs in crime labs. He describes his position as cyclical, with fewer patrolmen to make fewer arrests, a decrease in cases being filed because of budgetary constraints placed on the courts and fewer beds to house juvenile and adult criminals.

He gives an example in Wallowa County where it has been anticipated that only two Oregon State Police troopers will remain on duty if Measure 28 does not pass. If the bulk of their arrests are in game cases and the bulk of game cases are included as non person misdemeanors and the courts are not allowed to process non person misdemeanors .... well, the duties of the district attorney will be altered dramatically.

Other areas of concern from the district attorney's viewpoint are decreased revenue at the county level because of a reduction in unitary assessment fees because fewer cases will be prosecuted, and the proposed state cutback on SB1145 grant moneys which have been set aside to help with local jail costs.

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