Harris County commissioners deny funding for 102 additional prosecutors, opt for criminal justice system study

Harris County Commissioners Court met Feb. 12 to discuss a request from the Harris County district attorney's office for funding for 102 additional prosecutor positions.

Harris County Commissioners Court met Feb. 12 to discuss a request from the Harris County district attorney's office for funding for 102 additional prosecutor positions.

Instead of allocating $20.6 million to fund 102 additional prosecutor positions as requested by Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, Harris County Commissioners Court opted for a $5.8 million budget increase for the office and asked for a comprehensive study of Harris County’s criminal justice system Feb. 12.

According to Ogg’s budget proposal, presented during the county’s fiscal year 2019-20 budget hearings in January, the main goal of the additional funding was to ease prosecutors’ caseloads. According to the proposal, in 2018 the Harris County DA’s office filed 108,773 criminal cases staffed by 255 trial prosecutors; the recommended staffing of trial prosecutors for the 2018 caseload is 522 prosecutors.

Several prosecutors with the Harris County DA’s office spoke during the Feb. 12 Commissioners Court meeting advocating for the additional funding.

“The average person … is averaging 127 hours [of work] every two weeks,” said Nathan Beedle, misdemeanor chief for Harris County DA’s office. “If they were to work 10 days straight, working 24 hours a day, they couldn’t get all of their tasks done. You cannot function and do your job properly without the correct resources.”

Prosecutors also asserted heavy caseloads on overworked prosecutors have a negative domino effect on victims and the accused alike. Assistant DA Daniel Malik said on any given day, he has roughly 20 to 30 cases on his court’s docket for an average of 100-150 cases each week.

“I have seen and know the difference a well-prepared prosecutor can make in someone’s life, whether it’s a victim or an accused,” Malik said. “Do [the victims and accused] not deserve the best out of those tasked with gathering the evidence and prosecuting their cases? Do they not deserve the time and attention from us at the DA’s office who are tasked with making sure their rights are protected? If you allow us to have more ADAs in our office, we will be able to do that far more efficiently and in that, our home will be better served.”

However, several Harris County residents and representatives form advocacy groups such as Texas Organizing Project spoke in opposition of the additional funding, asserting more prosecutors would mean more convictions.

“The topic that concerns me is the DA’s request for an additional 102 prosecutors at a price tag of around [$20 million],” said Deidre Scott, a representative with Texas Organizing Project. “If you need more prosecutors, that means you want to put more people in jail, and that’s totally contradictory to the platform [Ogg] ran on.”

Other opponents advocated for the money to be spent in other areas to proactively relieve the criminal justice system.

“I’m in opposition of the DA’s request for the $20 million to expand prosecutor staff,” said Diana Williams, an organizer for Texas Advocates for Justice. “I feel that the moneys asked for to add to the DA’s staff can be spent on other social services needed to keep people out of the criminal justice system altogether—substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, education, job and housing assistance.”

After much discussion during the public hearing, County Judge Lina Hidalgo suggested offering the DA’s office a 7 percent budget increase of $5.8 million and requested the budget management department seek outside consultants to aid with a comprehensive study of they county’s criminal justice system.

“What I’m hearing is … additional prosecutors are not the only way and certainly not the most cost-effective way to decrease prosecutor caseloads,” Hidalgo said. “We need to make sure that we get the … caseloads down quickly—I recognize that. But that being said, we shouldn’t rush into it. $20 million is an increase that’s real people that we cannot then take back. We have a fiscal responsibility to the citizens and residents of Harris County.”

In a 4-1 vote, the court directed the Harris County Budget Management Department to put together a request for a proposal for a comprehensive study of Harris County’s criminal justice system looking at strategies to reduce caseload backlog as well as case management best practices, changes in plea policies and possible expansion of prearrest diversion programs.

“We’re facing an important moment—Harris County is,” Hidalgo said. “The nation is watching, and we’re facing a moment in which we can look at all the pieces that fit into the criminal justice system and figure out how they fit together. [A study would allow us to] look at this process holistically and make these financial decisions responsibly.”

The item will be brought back to the court for further consideration at a future Commissioners Court meeting.
By Hannah Zedaker
Born and raised in Cypress, Texas, Hannah Zedaker graduated from Sam Houston State University in 2016 with a bachelor's degree in mass communication and a minor in political science. She began as an intern with Community Impact Newspaper in 2015 and was hired upon graduation as a reporter for The Woodlands edition in May 2016. In January 2019, she was promoted to serve as the editor of the Spring/Klein edition where she covers Spring ISD and Harris County Commissioners Court, in addition to business, development and transportation news.



Aug. 13 marked the fourth day in a row in which the daily case count was under 1,000, an occurrence that took place only twice between July 15 and Aug. 9. (Community Impact staff)
Harris County coronavirus count: 931 new cases, 34 deaths confirmed Aug. 13

Aug. 13 marked the fourth day in a row in which the daily case count was under 1,000, an occurrence that took place only twice between July 15 and Aug. 9.

Daily festival capacity will be limited to 22,500, according to festival information for the upcoming 46th season. (Courtesy Steven David Photography)
Mask-break areas, limited capacity: Texas Renaissance Festival unveils health guidelines for 46th season

All tickets for the upcoming 46th festival season are date-specific, and no general admission tickets will be sold at the gate.

(Courtesy Texas Parks & Wildlife Department)
Battleship Texas Foundation given control of Battleship Texas; ship will soon leave La Porte for repairs

As of Aug. 1, the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department has transferred operational control of the historic Battleship Texas in La Porte to the nonprofit Battleship Texas Foundation under a 99-year lease, according to a Battleship Texas Foundation press release.

The Harris County Annex off Cypresswood Drive is among the buildings that reopened Aug. 10 to offer several services by appointment, including marriage licenses. (Staff photo)
Harris County Clerk's Office reopens annex buildings for services by appointment

Residents can now arrange to get marriage licenses, birth and death certificates and Doing Business As filings at 11 annex buildings located throughout the county.

Dr. Peter Hotez and Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi are co-leading the research team developing a coronavirus vaccine, which now has a licensing agreement with India-based company Biological E. Limited. (Courtesy Baylor College of Medicine)
Baylor College of Medicine announces licensing agreement for COVID-19 vaccine candidate

India has reported nearly 2.4 million total COVID-19 cases since the pandemic reached its borders.

Houston firefighters marched on City Hall in April 2019 to protest the city's legal battle against Proposition B. (Emma Whalen/Community Impact Newspaper)
Appeals court denies request for oral arguments in Houston firefighters Proposition B case

The decision is the latest development in a yearslong clash between the city and the firefighters union.

Crystal Lagoon opened for resident use in early June, and public access is available through Sept. 13. (Courtesy of Lago Mar)
Crystal Lagoon offers back-to-school bundle, new amenities to public

The United States’ largest Crystal Lagoons amenity, located at Lago Mar in Texas City, is offering additional activities and a back-to-school bundle for the public, according to an Aug. 12 news release.

(Courtesy AMC Theatres)
AMC Theatres to reopen Aug. 20 with 15-cent tickets

AMC Theatres—which has multiple locations in the Austin, Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston areas—will begin reopening its movie screens Aug. 20.