Marinette Co. DA talks with FOX 11 Investigates about resignation

Marinette County District Attorney Allen Brey sits down to talk about his resignation from office with FOX 11's Robert Hornacek. (May 24, 2017)

MARINETTE (WLUK) -- Stacks of files fill a conference room table at the office of Marinette County district attorney Allen Brey. The files represent more than 400 cases waiting to be reviewed.

"It's unconscionable to me. Morally, I can't continue," Brey said.

Brey won't be continuing. In April, Brey announced his resignation, effective June 4th.

When asked what led him to resign now, Brey gestured to the files and said, "This is it right here. Just not enough resources in the office to get the job done. Not enough lawyers, not enough support staff."

"If you're a crime victim in this county, you can expect if your case is not immediately filed you will have to wait about two years before it will be," Brey continued.

Brey has fought for years to get more prosecutors and support staff in his office. But he's giving up the fight. He says the demands of the job has taken its toll on him.

"I really hadn't realized that every Saturday and every Sunday morning at 8 o'clock I was here and the number of hours I was putting in. So, everything else in my life was suffering. Yet I was so close to it, I didn't see it. My family saw it," Brey said.

Brey is not alone. Prosecutors across the state have been asking for more resources for years. In a budget request last fall, the Department of Administration asked for 96 new prosecutors statewide.

Governor Walker's budget proposal includes zero. Instead, Walker wants to provide $3.7 million over two years for salary increases to try to retain experienced assistant DA's. But lawmakers are looking at adding money to the budget for more positions.

"The prosecutors of the state told us overwhelmingly the number one issue was keeping top prosecutors so they wanted it in the pay progression," Walker told FOX 11.

In an email to FOX 11, the governor's office added: "The governor’s budget proposal provides more than $3.7 million over two years ($1,066,100 GPR in fiscal year 2017-18 and $2,645,300 GPR in fiscal year 2018-19) for Deputy and Assistant District Attorney salary increases to increase retention of experienced counsel. This fully funds pay progression which was first included in in 2011 as part of a Governor’s initiative with the support of prosecutors, and expanded in the Governor’s 2013-15 budget. The $3.7 million provides a base-building salary increase of nearly $4,100 for eligible counsel with at least one year of service."

In a statement to FOX 11, the attorney general's office said: "Marinette County is not unique. Nearly all of the 71 DAs offices in Wisconsin are struggling to keep up with the growing workload to one degree or another. There is no question that if Wisconsin does not address the severe understaffing soon, innocent crime victims will suffer. A related problem is that experienced assistant DAs are leaving, because there have not been meaningful raises in many years.

"Attorney General Schimel has long been an advocate for prosecutor pay progression and increasing the number of prosecutors in the State of Wisconsin. After two years of personally appealing to Governor Walker, the Attorney General was very pleased to see that pay progression for assistant district attorneys is in the budget. That will at least help stem the outflow of experienced prosecutors and thus ensure that local law enforcement and prosecutors meet their public safety mission."

Lawmakers like State Sen. Dave Hansen, say a solution won't be easy.

"It's going to take money," Hansen said. "It's going to take resources to make this situation a lot better. Currently it's failing and we have to do something to make it better."

More resources could be on the way. In a statement to FOX 11, State Rep. John Nygren says the Joint Finance Committee recently "...approved an additional 0.5 position that had been requested by the Marinette County DA." That would bring the total number of prosecutors in the county to three.

Brey says that would be a good start.

When asked what advice he would give his successor, Brey said, "Do everything you can to get more staff. You need more staff. You can work 100 hours a week. You can move your clothes in here. There just are not enough people to manage a caseload."

In the meantime, Brey worries about what could happen while cases sit and wait to be prosecuted.

"Somebody in here is going to do something horrible," Brey said gesturing at the stacks of files on the table. "Then the first person they're going to point the finger at is the district attorney and say 'if only you've had done you job.' And whoever that happens to be needs to be able to point back and say, 'if only you would have provided me with the staff.'"

There is another proposal in Madison designed to give prosecutors more of a voice in the Capitol. Under the plan, the state would create an independent state prosecutors board which would oversee the budget, set policies and provide input on legislation that would affect district attorneys. The bill, which has bi-partisan support, is currently in committee.

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