• September 17, 2019

Increased workload: Bland expects cases at district attorney’s office to eclipse 4,600 in 2019 - Odessa American: Crime & Justice

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Increased workload: Bland expects cases at district attorney’s office to eclipse 4,600 in 2019

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Posted: Sunday, July 14, 2019 4:00 am

Ector County District Attorney Bobby Bland faces two constant obstacles — an ever-increasing case load and limited funds.

The Ector County District Attorney’s Office has already had 2,333 cases filed and that number is projected to reach more than 4,600 by the end of the year.

Bland detailed the amount of cases for 2019 would be 1,200 more than in 2018 and nearly two and half times more than when he started as the Ector County District Attorney in 2006.

“Out of these 4,600 cases that we are going to have this year, 30 percent is coming from outside the city,” Bland said. “I think it’s appropriate to use some of that tax money to underwrite the cost of prosecuting in that area.

“One of the things that we are trying to do is raise up these positions, so they can make something comparable to a county going through similar things is making.”

With an increased case load, Bland also has to combat salary restrictions.

Starting pay for an attorney at the Ector County District Attorney’s Office is about $70,000 per year. Bland said that salary is similar to Amarillo.

However, Bland said that’s a far cry from the starting salary from what Odessa’s sister city less than 30 miles to the east. Bland said the starting salary Midland County District Attorney’s Office is $20,000 to $25,000 more than what he can offer.

“Midland has fewer felonies, so I’m paying less, but expect you to work more for the money,” Bland said. “That’s one of the challenges too.”

The discrepancy in pay between Odessa and Midland would cover the cost of living.

Average price of an apartment in Odessa is $1,380, according to RENTCafe. Midland’s average cost for an apartment is $1,571, which is $139 higher than the national average.

The average cost of an apartment in Amarillo is $695.

“It’s hard to find an affordable place to live,” Bland said. “If you aren’t in the oil business, it’s pretty pricey to live here. I’ve hired people in the past that thought it was a good salary and then they found out it was hard to live here.”

Bland said he has 12 trial attorney positions filled with two vacancies. Bland said two vacancies have been consistent for the last couple of years.

At full staff, the Ector County District Attorney’s Office would have three attorneys per courtroom, two sexual assault attorneys and one appellate attorney.

Bland explained he’s in talks with law school students that haven’t taken the bar exam.

He said it isn’t ideal to hire a student immediately out of law school to try felony cases, but that’s the dilemma he has.

“People can get felony experience right away,” Bland said. “They don’t have to work through misdemeanors and work their way up. People get a lot of experience here.”

Ector County Sheriff Mike Griffis knows the struggles of filling positions.

Griffis has to fill positions at the Ector County Sheriff’s Office, Ector County Law Enforcement Center and security at the Ector County Courthouse.

Griffis said over the phone on Friday afternoon that ECSO is short three deputies of being full staff. He also said two other deputies have submitted their resignation to work elsewhere.

Griffis said ECSO can compete with other law enforcement agencies for deputies, but he has to compete with oilfield companies for jailers.

“A decent attorney in this town can make hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Griffis said. “(Bland) has to find someone that absolutely wants to be in public service and service the community and work in that capacity. I feel his pain as far as finding prosecutors.”

Bland admitted another courtroom will be needed in the near future due to the influx of felony cases. That would also mean additional attorneys at the Ector County District Attorney’s Office.

The number of cases filed to the Ector County District Attorney’s Office has tipped more than 3,000 for the last three years and Bland doesn’t expect that number to decrease anytime soon.

“They can address the situation in the jail and they can get jailers out there and they can put people in those jails, but if we don’t address the back end where we are handling the prosecution, we’re not going to empty out those jails,” Bland said. “We want to. We want to make sure everyone is processed and moved through the system as efficiently as possible.”

Odessa, TX

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