DA addresses supervisors, asks for continued support

Published 12:11 pm Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Hal Kittrell, District Attorney for the 15th Judicial District, told supervisors on Monday that his office has been hit by the “bad economy,” too, like other government agencies, and that recently he has been on “bended knee” a lot, asking for help.

“I have been on bended knee looking for sources of income,” said Kittrell. “We can’t function without revenue. . .We deal with public safety, one of the main functions of government, but you can’t get the job done unless you are adequately funded.”

Kittrell’s office serves five counties in South Mississippi — Lawrence, Jeff Davis, Marion, Lamar and Pearl River counties.

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He said each county helps his office by providing office space or direct funding. Currently, Pearl River helps pay for an assistant district attorney and one of three private investigators, who mainly serve Pearl River.

He said the 15th Judicial District serves 164,000 people, and broke the five counties down by population as: Jeff Davis, 12,487, or 8 percent of the district’s population; Lamar, 55,658, 31 percent; Lawrence, 12,929, 8 percent; Marion, 27,088, 16 percent; and Pearl River, 55,834, 34 percent.

Kittrell’s figures show that although Lamar and Pearl River counties are almost identical in population, Pearl River County generates 45 percent of his office’s case load to Lamar County’s 28 percent.

Kittrell said a total of 19 people work for the DA’s office: The DA, who is elected every four years; seven assistant district attorneys; three full-time investigators; two victim assistance coordinators; an economic crime unit (bad checks), and a litigation staff.

He said the office is funded by a state appropriation of $55,000, and revenues from bad check convictions, drug seizure forfeitures and a pre-trial diversion program. He said collections from bad checks are down because of the bad economy. He said most of his office’s funding comes from sources other than the state, such as funding from counties, either directly from funds or in-kind support such as office space.

He said Pearl River County generates 45 percent of his district’s case load, compared to 28 percent for Lamar, 16 percent for Marion, six percent for Lawrence and five percent for Jefferson Davis.

He also pointed out that 53 percent of the drug cases inside the district originate in Pearl River County. He broke down the percentage of cases by type in Pearl River: 50 percent are drug related; five percent, sex crimes, 17 percent, property crimes; six percent, violent crimes; six percent, financial; death-murders, one percent; DUI, two percent; and other, 13 percent.

Kittrell told supervisors there has been an improvement in speed and efficiency in moving cases through the system, which saves taxpayers money. He said the recent arrest, trial and conviction of a murder suspect in Pearl River County in less than a year was unprecedented. He said three assistant district attorneys serve Pearl River County and its heavy case load.

“Trying a murder case in less than a year has never happened here. I hope you all realize how significant that is. That saves money, helps victims and improves the system all around,” he said. He said implementation of a county court system in Pearl River County also has helped unclog the court system and has made it more efficient.

Added Kittrell, “My office has expended a lot of energy down here, and you have requested more help, and we are glad to give it and serve you and the people here, but we need your help also.”