Government Lawyers: Welcome to the Recession

Wisconsin map postcard.JPGIs it me or has there been an awful lot of news coming out of Wisconsin recently?
Last week a Wisconsin prisoner was denied his fundamental Dungeons & Dragons rights — rights that would be protected by my class 8, Constitution of Living, artifact. Then we had a story about an attempt to bring cast members from the Jersey Shore to speak at the Wisconsin Law School graduation.
That attempt failed. We understand that Wisconsin Governor Jim Doyle will be the commencement speaker. Perhaps Wisconsin law students can use the opportunity to convince the Governor to protect state jobs in Wisconsin’s district attorney offices. As it stands right now, a number of Wisconsin D.A.s are slated to be fired. But in a textbook example of “how to strike fear into the hearts of your employees,” Wisconsin D.A.s don’t know who will be shown the door, or when, or how many of them will be fired. The ABA Journal reports:

Prosecutors’ offices in Wisconsin have received notices from the state that they will face layoffs, leading to public safety worries and contingency plans.
It’s not known how many layoffs are planned or when they will occur, according to WQOW18 and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The state budget crunch is forcing the cuts.

After the jump, press from around Wisconsin has watched enough Law & Order episodes to know that you can’t have successful crime fighting without capable district attorneys.

Wisconsin Attorney General, J.B. Van Hollen, got the public outcry started with an article he penned for The Cap Times:

I believe that public safety is the first priority of state and local government. This means having laws that protect citizens from those who would deprive us of our life, liberty, property, and ability to pursue happiness. And it means having people to enforce those laws.
Prosecutors are front-line public safety personnel. District attorneys and their assistants, whose salaries are part of the state budget, are responsible for evaluating, charging, and prosecuting nearly all state criminal actions. Often they also play a critical role in the investigation of complex crimes. Homicides, drug trafficking, fraud, sexual assault, domestic violence — justice cannot be served without a prosecutor evaluating evidence, appropriately charging defendants, and competently and fairly trying cases.

My head is now flooded with images of the tough and mean streets of Sheboygan – a place where the cows will cut you if you even glance at their udders. Lord knows that you don’t roll into Oshkosh unless you are packing heat and dropping fools and suckas at your feet.
Instead of laying people off, the A.G. argues that Wisconsin needs to add district attorneys if the people want to be safe:

In 2007, a Legislative Audit Bureau report concluded, based on a caseload analysis, that prosecutor offices were 117 assistant district attorneys short. Since then, no serious move has been made to address the shortage. Instead, there have only been new responsibilities added for district attorneys through expansion of criminal laws, such as the recently passed drunken driving bill, which makes a number of positive policy changes but fails to fully fund those changes. …
Layoffs will only further exacerbate the negative effects of a prosecutor shortage that threatens the state’s ability to enforce criminal laws and do justice.
These layoffs are the result of a failure to budget according to priorities — or a failure to prioritize public safety.

If Wisconsin insists on going forward with the layoffs, one D.A. has an innovative plan to deal with the crunch. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports:

In frustration over the process, Sheboygan County District Attorney Joe DeCecco announced Monday that his office had made contingent plans: It no longer would prosecute several types of misdemeanors, about 1,200 a year, if his office loses one of his six full-time assistants.
“The irresponsible fiscal policies of the State, and its refusal to address a critical shortage of needed prosecutors around the state over the last decade, have led to this dire consequence,” he said in a news release.

Oh boy, there’s going to be some man/cow love coming to a Big Ten town near you.
Seriously though, a note to government lawyers that have been openly mocking the travails of Biglaw practitioners: It’s time to wipe that smug smile off of your face. Sure, 2009 was rough in private practice. But 2010 doesn’t look to be shaping up well for public lawyers. State budgets are maxed out, and Obama wants to abandon his friend, John Maynard Keynes. 2010 could be the year that the recession comes to you.
Layoff Notices Spur Worries in Wisconsin DA Offices [ABA Journal]
J.B. Van Hollen: State should add assistant DAs, not lay them off [The Cap Times]
DAs feel state budget cuts, worry about possible layoffs [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel]
Earlier: Seventh Circuit Rules Dungeons & Dragons A Threat to Prison Security
Wisconsin Law School Seeks to Import Jersey Shore to the Great Lakes
Judge of the Day: James Morley

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