Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden told state budget planners last week that his agency’s litigators spend too much time on paperwork to the detriment of the cases they’re charged with prosecuting. To remedy that situation, Biden asked for $900,000 in next year’s budget to purchase a new computerized case management system for his office,


Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden told state budget planners last week that his agency’s litigators spend too much time on paperwork to the detriment of the cases they’re charged with prosecuting.

To remedy that situation, Biden asked for $900,000 in next year’s budget to purchase a new computerized case management system for his office, which he said would streamline data entry and research functions performed by attorneys and administrative staff.

“We simply need an automated case management system, we are the biggest law firm in the state,” Biden told staff from the Office of Management and Budget during a preliminary hearing on his agency’s budget Nov. 10. “Right now, we have a paper file we use to manage this caseload.”

That caseload, Biden said, includes 9,000 felony cases and some 60,000 misdemeanors annually.

Because of the outdated paper-based filing system, Biden said he often sees deputy attorneys standing at copy machines making duplicates of documents they need for cases, when they should be spending their time reviewing and planning for trial.

“That’s not why these folks went to law school,” he said. “They’re trained to be in the court room.”

The attorney general also asked for an additional $245,000 to cover a prosecutor and three administrative assistants funded by federal stimulus package funds, which run out at the end of this year.

Those employees work in the Court of Common Pleas, the primary repository for Delaware’s criminal cases. On average, a Common Pleas prosecutor handles more than 3,800 cases per year.

Chief Deputy Attorney General Charles Butler said administrative support is vital to the agency’s conviction rate. Someone has to be available to bring together everything a prosecutor may need for a particular case, especially when that prosecutor doesn’t often see the case file until the day before a scheduled court date.

“You have everything from domestic violence to speeders, today it’s a very large number of cases,” he said. “The collection and collation of documents in the Court of Common Pleas is an undertaking.”

State Budget Director Ann Visalli said that’s the kind of justification the governor’s office needs if it’s going to set aside money in the recommended budget for administrative positions.

“One of the things we have worked toward is getting lawyers to do lawyer work and not administrative work,” she said. “To someone on the outside, three administrative assistants can look excessive.”

Biden also wants $497,000 to pick up an expiring federal grant that pays the salaries of three deputies responsible for prosecuting sex and child abuse crimes, as well as two internal criminal investigators and an attached administrative assistant.

If the three sex crime and child abuse prosecutors disappear when the grant runs out, Biden said it would have absolutely no effect on the operations of the Delaware Child Predator Task Force or the continuing prosecution of accused pedophile pediatrician Earl Bradley.

However, he said his agency needs them to fill other roles.

The criminal investigators are attached to the agency’s Community Prosecution division, teams of prosecutors with a wide range of expertise who target dangerous and repeat offenders in specific areas.

Since the investigators were brought on in 2009, case dismissals in New Castle County Superior Court decreased by 67%.

“Increasingly, juries demand more evidence and witnesses are sometimes hard to find,” Biden said in support of the work the investigators do.

Other notable budget requests include $79,000 for a forensic accountant to help gather evidence for mortgage and financial fraud cases, and $14,700 in state-matching funds for a Medicare and Medicaid fraud prosecutor.

In total, the Attorney General’s Office requested $31.1 million for next year’s budget, a 4.6% increase over the current year’s budget.

The requests will be considered for inclusion in the governor’s recommended budget, to be released in January.

 

Email Doug Denison at doug.denison@doverpost.com