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Friday, December 5, 2008

Prosecutors warn against more budget cuts

Kentucky prosecutors warned yesterday that further state budget cuts could significantly disrupt prosecution of crimes and leave the state's court system in shambles.

"It's going to be chaos,'' said Christian County Attorney Mike Foster, a member of the Prosecutors Advisory Council, which held an emergency meeting in Frankfort yesterday. "It is the entire prosecutorial system for the state of Kentucky.''

Gov. Steve Beshear has asked all state entities -- including county and commonwealth's attorneys -- to draw up plans for how they would deal with a 4 percent budget cut for the remainder of the fiscal year.

For the commonwealth's attorneys, who prosecute felony offenses, a 4 percent cut -- following cuts enacted at the start of the budget year on July 1 -- could result in layoffs of up to 100 people, said Warren County's Chris Cohron, president of the state Commonwealth's Attorneys Association.

"It's very troubling," he said.

County attorneys, who handle drunk driving, domestic violence and child abuse and neglect cases, could be forced to lay off as many as 77 employees, Foster said.

Prosecutors' offices have nothing left to slash but staff, Foster said. And that mean some crimes could go unprosecuted and others may be dismissed for lack of an available prosecutor, he said.

"When you're talking about public safety and criminal justice, that is the foundation of government,'' he said. "When you abandon that, government has basically abandoned its responsibility to citizens.''

Jay Blanton, a spokesman for Beshear, said the governor is seeking the draft proposals for budget cuts as he prepares to address a projected $456 million shortfall. The proposals are due tomorrow.

Though Beshear hasn't decided which agencies to cut, "there's no way to avoid cuts, and the cuts will be painful,'' Blanton said. [Mark Godsey]

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