New Jersey Governor Chris Christie yesterday accepted the final report of the County Prosecutor Study Commission, which he established in July by Executive Order 33, to examine the feasibility of modifying the State’s county prosecutor’s office system to achieve greater efficiency and savings for taxpayers. Governor Christie will review the Commission’s recommendations, which include proposals to consolidate certain prosecutorial functions, make budgeting for the prosecutors’ offices more objective and transparent, and address funding disparities among the counties.
“My charge to Attorney General Dow and the Study Commission was to recommend ways to achieve savings for taxpayers through efficiencies, while ensuring public safety by maintaining the highest professional standards for our county prosecutor offices,” Governor Christie said.
“The Commission members have met that charge with a number of strong recommendations to more effectively evaluate county Prosecutor offices operations, streamline procedures and provide state guidance where it is lacking. I commend them for their thoroughness and thoughtfulness and I look forward to reviewing this report further.”
The Study Commission report, which represents the consensus of a majority of the members, concludes that a takeover of the County Prosecutors’ Offices would cost the State approximately $435 million. The Study Commission report indicates that such a takeover would not produce significant overall cost savings and could “unwittingly undermine the quality and effectiveness of prosecution services.”
“While the Commission concluded that a State takeover of the Prosecutors’ Offices would not ultimately generate savings for taxpayers or improve performance, it recommended ways in which the offices could be assisted and made more cost efficient through consolidation of functions, improved budgeting, and allocation of forfeiture funds and new monetary penalties against criminals,” Attorney General Dow said. “I look forward to working cooperatively with the counties to implement changes as necessary and appropriate.”
The findings provided by the Commission Study Report cover five broad areas:
· Evaluation of Current Organizational Structure of New Jersey’s Prosecution System
· Improving the Budgetary Process
· Addressing Fiscal Problems by Means of an Objective System for Providing State Financial Assistance and by Establishing New Sources of Revenue to Defray the Costs of Prosecution Services
· Cost Savings by Reducing Redundancies and Inefficiencies Through Consolidation and Shared Services
· Clarifying the Authority of County Governing Bodies
Among the recommended actions for the Attorney General to undertake, in cooperation with the county prosecutors and county executives and administrators:
· Develop a formula or other objective methodology to determine the appropriate staffing levels of a county prosecutor’s office, accounting for all relevant local variables, including crime rates, arrests, cases filed, and numbers of pleas and trials. This should be used to standardize the process by which county officials determine the prosecutor’s budget, and to make that process more objective and transparent.
· Establish an aid grant program, funded in part with new penalties against convicted criminals, to provide financial aid to eligible county prosecutors’ offices based on a formula that accounts for financial need and objective performance measures.
· Consider feasibility of amending State law to provide that a percentage of assets forfeited by criminals would be re-directed to the State aid grant program for distribution to eligible counties to address funding disparities in prosecutors’ offices.
· Assign more direct appeals to the Division of Criminal Justice Appellate Bureau and correspondingly reduce the number of appeals that must be referred to the county prosecutors’ offices, relieving workload burdens recently shifted by the State to the county prosecutors, enhancing the consistency of appellate advocacy in criminal matters, and increasing Appellate Bureau staff to 2006 level.
· Study the feasibility of closing underutilized police academies and establishing a system of regional academies.
· Take steps to ensure the prompt implementation of the federal Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) to ensure that the State does not forfeit federal grant monies and to conserve county prosecutor resources by simplifying the system for “tiering” convicted sex offenders and notifying the public.
· Issue an Attorney General directive establishing specific procedures and criteria regarding when a prosecutor will be permitted to ask the assignment judge in the county to order the county freeholders to increase the prosecutor's budget to enable the prosecutor to fulfill his or her law enforcement obligations. The Study Commission recommended that such lawsuits – which are known as “Bigley applications” and which must be approved by the Attorney General – be approved only if the county has failed to allocate an appropriate portion of its overall budget to the prosecutor’s office or if there are compelling circumstances related to public safety.
Attorney General Dow chaired the Study Commission, which was comprised of Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff; Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr.; Morris County Administrator John Bonanni; Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson; Hudson County Executive Thomas A. DeGise; Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes; Burlington County Prosecutor Robert D. Bernardi; Union County Prosecutor Theodore J. Romankow; Passaic County Prosecutor Camelia M. Valdes; Stephen J. Taylor, Director, Division of Criminal Justice; Patrick E. Hobbs, Dean, Seton Hall University School of Law; and former Attorney General W. Cary Edwards.
The Study Commission dedicated the report to the memory of Commission member W. Cary Edwards, former New Jersey Attorney General, who passed away during the process.