• September 18, 2020

Commissioners hear idea of criminal DA’s office - Odessa American: Ector County

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Commissioners hear idea of criminal DA’s office

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Posted: Tuesday, August 4, 2020 5:10 pm

During the Ector County Commissioners’ Court budget hearing Tuesday, County Attorney Dusty Gallivan broached the idea of creating a criminal district attorney’s office and hiring a civil attorney along with his budget request.

County Judge Debi Hays said the budget hearings for county departments, commissioners and law enforcement were scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday and next Monday. There will be a commissioners’ court meeting Aug. 11. Hays said she hopes to wrap everything up that day, but it might go into Aug. 12.

Today’s hearing starts at 8:30 a.m. in the county administration building at 1010 E. Eighth St.

Hays last week presented her plan for $67.1 million in general fund expenditures. It was an increase from the current fiscal year’s $66.5 million, but Precinct 3 Commissioner Dale Childers said he and Commissioners Eddy Shelton in Precinct 1, Greg Simmons in 2 and Armando Rodriguez in 4 will make alterations before the budget is adopted in September.

“Every year this is a process we go through, and then after it’s posted, any changes, any last- minute pleas when we do open hearings on the budget, then individuals will have a second chance to persuade the court to change along with the public,” Hays said.

She said the county still has a hiring freeze, but Precinct 3 Commissioner Dale Childers said there are some departments that have been deemed essential such as law enforcement, the health department, IT and building maintenance.

Gallivan was unopposed for district attorney, and his first assistant, Greg Barber, was unopposed for county attorney.

Gallivan said his budget request was for 2020-2021 is $1.9 million, compared to $1.8 million last year. The only change, he said, is his request for a civil attorney because the expertise of lawyers in his office is mainly criminal law.

Combining the county and district attorney would create a criminal district attorney’s office, which many larger counties have.

“That way you have one office that deals with misdemeanors and felonies. … We’re one of the few counties that has them separate,” Gallivan said.

He added that there has to be legislation to authorize it. If all goes well, the change will take place in October 2021.

“So once we get through budget, we’ll present a resolution to the court. If they approve it, we’ll present that to (Rep.) Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa) and then he’ll present it and do what he’s got to do,” Gallivan said.

“Having two offices there’s some redundancy in positions that you wouldn’t need. In addition, unfortunately, individuals who break the law don’t necessarily just commit a misdemeanor or just a felony. They usually have both and right now it’s very difficult for us to coordinate those because we’re different offices, so once we’re combined you could have one prosecutor take care of everything,” he said.

Barber will be part of Gallivan’s office once the transformation occurs.

Barber added that they will be able to share resources and if someone is short handed and there is a large court docket, “they can shift over instead of having people in different spots.”

“Dusty and I have talked about it,” Barber said of the proposed change. “I’ve been his first assistant for almost six years now. I came from Lubbock originally. They have a criminal district attorney’s office. I’ve seen how it works up there and Dusty and I talked about it. I’m in full agreement with him that it’s better all around for Ector County to have all those resources put into one office. It streamlines a lot of things. The judicial process will go a lot quicker whether they’re felonies or misdemeanors and it also saves time and money.”

He added that they also won’t have to have two separate offices.

“I’m in full agreement it’s for the betterment of the judicial system of Ector County,” Barber said.

Gallivan also presented a $3.5 million budget request for the DA’s office. District Attorney Bobby Bland did not attend that part of the meeting.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, courts had shut down. Gallivan said the county courts returned to action Tuesday.

“… Every week we do a jail chain so individuals in the jail can take care of their cases if they choose to. Since probably about six, seven weeks now we’ve been doing it by video. So we go out there with a laptop since they don’t have the equipment out there, have the judge on the screen and handle it that way,” Gallivan said.

Gallivan said in a text message that a jail chain is a specific docket where incarcerated individuals are given the opportunity to resolve their case if they so chose.

“This allows individuals to get out of jail sooner rather than later, saving the taxpayers money,” Gallivan stated.

Barber added that it’s good for people on restrictions so they don’t have to be transported to court in a van with other inmates. It helps stop the spread of COVID-19, as well, he said.

Gallivan said one of the things his office is working on with IT is to have a way that attorneys can visit with their clients via video.

“One of the issues is some attorneys are older and they don’t want to go out there. I get that, so they’re going to have a similar system set up just for defense attorneys to use. They can basically make an appointment, the jail will pull their client, have them there and they talk to them on video,” Gallivan said.

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