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Delaware DOJ seeks additional positions to manage caseload

Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media

The Delaware Department of Justice is asking for new positions to address some of the issues it faces.

Besides new staff to manage the state’s body-worn camera program, most of the new positions sought by the DOJ are not in the governor’s recommended budget.

Thursday, DOJ outlined an extensive list of new positions it argues is needed to manage a sometimes overwhelming caseload.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Alex Mackler says the low pay scale set for entry level attorneys hasn’t been adjusted since 2000, and during the pandemic that hurt recruitment.

“We have, for the last year and a half, suffered real, long term vacancies,” Mackler said. “And so when we talk about things like caseloads — part of the reason is because we can’t get new people to come and be prosecutors or we can’t keep the prosecutors that we have; because like Kathy said, they’ve been sworn in for a week and a law firm sees they passed the bar and scoop them up right away.”

The starting salary for an attorney at DOJ is around $60 thousand. That same person could get up to $200 thousand in the private sector.

State Attorney General Kathy Jennings says they’ll never match the private sector, but raising the base salaries to catch up with inflation is necessary to compete even against county and city governments.

Members of Joint Finance Committee spent a lot of time focused on those new positions that would help tackle a backlog of child sexual abuse cases, now around 900.

Mackler says court closures during the pandemic contributed to that backlog, but that’s not the only reason.

“Look, the caseloads are up; there just are a lot of these cases,” he said. “When you’ve got an SVU prosecutor, she or he has 250 felony special victims cases on average in a year. That’s a ton — frankly it’s too many. We have speedy trial, We have other things that keep the cases moving, but there are a lot of these cases and they have always been complex.”

State Sen. Ernie Lopez (R-Lewes) says the amount of open cases right now is far too high, comparing the number to the size of two elementary schools worth of children.

The DOJ is asking for an additional investigator to it’s child predator task force. Jennings says a sharp rise in online tips necessitates more staff.

The department is seeking an additional 27 positions in its budget, but a little over half of those weren’t part of the governor’s recommended budget. The department is seeking a total budget of around $44 million.

Roman Battaglia is a corps member withReport for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.