- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Charles County prosecutors are so overworked that they soon will have to pick and choose which cases to pursue in court, State’s Attorney Anthony B. Covington warned the Charles County commissioners Tuesday.
He asked the commissioners to give his office a $989,000 budget increase, or 41 percent, which would include enough to hire five new prosecutors in fiscal 2013, which begins July 1. Over three years, his office will require a $1.7 million increase, enough to hire a total of eight new attorneys and at least one researcher, he said.
In contrast, county government staffers have suggested a $208,200 increase, 9.2 percent more than fiscal 2012, documents show. Covington (D) called the proposal unacceptable.
“You have to fund the states attorney’s office. You have to fund the sheriff’s office. You have to fund the courts. It’s a mandate from the state. You can’t just give them what you want. You have to give these offices [funding] in a cooperative manner. My request has to be reasonable, and I believe I have demonstrated the reasonableness of a $1.7 million increase right here and now, and I’m asking for much less than that [for next year],” Covington said.
Covington searched for, but didn’t find, a formula to dictate how many prosecutors Charles County should have, but his research suggested the county doesn’t have nearly enough, he said.
Comparisons with five other Maryland counties suggest Charles County should have 19.8 prosecutors, not its current 10, he said.
“The state’s attorney’s office is in crisis as far as manning, staffing is concerned, to the point where I have to consider, if we don’t get relief fiscally here, to abandon the prosecution of certain crimes. That’s something that can’t, that shouldn’t happen,” Covington said. He didn’t specify which crimes might be ignored.
Charles County had a higher crime rate in 2010 than Calvert, Carroll, Frederick, St. Mary’s and Washington counties, Covington said. The disparity is starker for violent crimes, with a rate of 491 per year per 100,000 residents. The second-highest among those he analyzed was Frederick County, with 313, according to his presentation.
But Charles County looks good compared to some others in the region not included in the presentation. The county is ranked ninth in the state for violent crime, behind Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties, and 11th for overall crime. Prince George’s County is the third most violent jurisdiction in the state with a rate of 736 per 100,000 people, according to Maryland State Police data posted online.
Another sore point for Covington was Charles County having more public defenders than prosecutors, and “the county should be embarrassed by this particular ratio,” he said.
Public defenders don’t handle all criminal cases in the county because some defendants can afford to hire their own counsel. Every case, however, requires a prosecutor. Also, defending a case is easier than prosecuting one, he said.
“It takes a heck of a lot more to build a house than to tear one down, and from a prosecutor, that’s what you’re doing. The prosecutor and the ... police, you’re building a house, and as a defense attorney, you’re tearing it down,” Covington said. “We don’t care about public safety where we’re going to have more public defenders than we do [deputy] state’s attorneys.”
Commissioner Ken Robinson (D) called the presentation “very persuasive” but asked why Covington didn’t sound the same alarm last year.
“What’s changed is I know a lot better what I’m doing. I have a much better assessment of what’s going on in that office,” said Covington, who took office in January 2011.
“I don’t think there’s anyone on this board that doesn’t take very seriously the job that your office does,” Robinson said.