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Lawmakers react to understaffing in district attorney offices

(WLUK)

(WLUK) -- The Brown County District attorney's office opened its doors to FOX 11 Investigates back in March. District Attorney David Lasee showed off the vast number of criminal cases it simply can't get to.

"We're still substantially behind, 2-to-3,000 cases behind," Lasee said. "That's what they feel like."

We spoke to State Rep. Andre Jacque back in March about failed past efforts to get state funding for more prosecutors. Now Jacque, R-De Pere, says he'll begin pushing legislation this week to add 20 additional assistant district attorneys around the state, based on the greatest need.

"Unfortunately it's a bit of a numbers crunch. It's always difficult to dedicate scarce resources and yet this is something that's been underfunded for such a long period of time," Jacque said.

The 20 assistant DAs is estimated to cost up to $726,000 in the upcoming budget.

Gov. Scott Walker did not include the positions in his budget plan, but did fund planned raises for assistant district attorneys. Last month, Walker indicated pay raises were thought to be more important in keeping current prosecutors on staff.

"The prosecutors in this state told us overwhelmingly the number one issue is keeping top prosecutors and so they want it in the pay progression," Walker said.

Last month, Marinette County DA Allen Brey quit over the understaffing issue. He says both raises and more bodies are needed.

"We want 96 bodies and we want pay to keep our people and somewhere along the line that pivoted to well they told us they didn't need the 96 people," Brey said.

In the early stages, Jacque's legislation is receiving bipartisan support.

"You could certainly make the argument the public safety is being jeopardized," said State Rep. Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay.

The 20 additional prosecutors statewide would only bring up the staffing needs to about 60 percent of what is actually needed. But Jacque describes it as a good first step.

And he believes the governor will support it.

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