DA’s Office gains manpower amid backlogs, staffing shortages

Tulare County Board of Supervisors approves request from Tulare County District Attorney’s office to add 11 positions

VISALIA – The Tulare County District Attorney’s office is moving things around to cut down on attorney’s heavy workloads amidst a time of state-wide law enforcement staffing shortages.

On Feb. 7, the Tulare County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the addition of 11 positions for the Tulare County District Attorney’s office. Chief deputy district attorney Dan Underwood said staffing shortages aren’t exclusive to law enforcement, but are in fact in various state fields and mostly felt in entry-level positions. However, with no shortage of caseloads of work coming down from the state, Underwood said the office hopes to combat the surplus with the 11 new positions. The addition will rearrange staff, bring experienced workers on board and get senior-level officers some needed assistance in their work.

“Our senior attorneys are still processing a larger workload and they’re handling our most complex cases; so these positions are designed for attorneys to fill,” Underwood said.

This change will add eight assistant district attorney positions, two chief deputy district attorneys and a level two field evidence technician to the office’s staff. The office’s level two media specialist will be reclassified as a communications manager and three other positions will be removed. The communications manager will receive an increased salary, which will be partially offset by the deletion of the level one media specialist position.

According to Underwood, most of the new roles will be filled within office since they are geared towards attorneys with criminal justice experience. However, that does not mean all new additions will be in house hires.

Additionally, a salary grade adjustment detailing an approximate 5% increase for the chief investigator-district attorney was also approved. These changes to the office’s pay period become effective Feb. 12 and total to about $764,635 overall. They will be covered by the office’s departmental savings. According to the staff report, this means the adjustment won’t have any effect on the county’s general fund.

According to Underwood, laws recently passed by the state have made it so inmates already in prison can have their cases adjudicated, or put under review for an early release. With a significant number of cases coming back to the district attorney’s office, he said this has made the workload for senior attorneys more difficult.

Although uncertain on the reasoning behind staffing shortages observed amongst law enforcement, Underwood said these are unprecedented times. Having been with the district attorney’s office for 10 years now, he said there were three to six vacancies in the office during his first eight years there. Now, for entry level deputy district attorneys, Underwood said that number ranges from 20 to 25.

Supervisor Larry Micari confirmed from his own observations with law enforcement that these shortages are being felt at the state level. A former lawman himself, he commended the district attorney’s office for making the effort to get their cases filed. 

“Your office is not taking a stance that you’re not going to file particular cases, you’re doing everything you can to make sure justice is served in Tulare County,” Micari said.

According to Underwood, certain district attorneys refuse to file specific case types, like low level misdemeanors. For the Tulare County District Attorney’s office, however, he said if a case can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt with sufficient evidence, the office will ensure it is filed.

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