A local pillar of San Joaquin County's law enforcement system is likely going away. The county's district attorney has had a satellite office in Lodi since 1982, but a strained county budget is likely to force its closure in the coming weeks.
The office, located on North Lee Avenue, is within walking distance from the Lodi Police Department and city courthouse. Cops use it to file reports for case documents. For deputy district attorneys, it's a staging ground before appearing before a judge to argue a case. But all that could quickly change. The county administration staff's proposed budget for the coming fiscal year outlines a 10 percent cut to the district attorney's accounts.
"Deputy district attorneys are going to be living out of their cars," said Jim Willett, San Joaquin County's district attorney. "It's a mess."
The potential closure is just another cut in a series of reductions the district attorney's office has suffered since 2008.
"I've lost one-third of my staff in the past two years," Willett said. "And violent crime in San Joaquin County has not gone down in that time."
There were 34 homicides in the county in 2008, 51 in 2009 and 64 in 2010, said Ron Freitas, chief district attorney of the Homicide and Gang Division. Meanwhile, the number of prosecutors in the county has gone from 94 to possibly 67.
"As the number of district attorneys has gone down, homicides in the county have gone up," he said.
By closing the office, Willett reasons the job of one attorney would be saved. Even with the proposed office closures in Lodi and Manteca, five county prosecutors could lose their jobs if the proposed budget is passed. The rent is not the only expense associated with the Lodi office, Willett said. Office supplies and utility costs would also be eliminated with the closure.
"I need to have the maximum number of prosecutors possible for cases," he said.
The closure would also affect Lodi's police force. Instead of walking a block to file court documents, officers would need to drive to the central hub in Stockton, Lt. Chris Piombo said. A task that takes a matter of minutes now would take significantly longer due to the commute combined with the filing process itself, he said. The closing of the Lodi office would also reduce the time officers get to spend with a prosecutor.
"They get to know us on a first-name basis," Piombo said. "We're able to explain the backstory of the case and why they should move forward with prosecution. We're going to have to adjust."
If passed, the proposed cuts would come on the heels of a 26 percent cut last year and a 8.5 percent slash the year before. Three prosecutors should be based at Lodi's office to handle the caseload, Willett said, but only two can be afforded right now.
Further complicating the issue is the timing of the Lee Avenue office's lease, which expires June 11. Even though the board of supervisors has until June 30 to decide on the budget, Willett said he couldn't linger on his next move.
With a strong possibility of the cuts taking place, workers in the office are already packing up supplies and bracing for the worst. Willett has put in a supplemental request for funding for his department, but said he can't makes plans expecting it to be approved.
"I can't count on these pennies from heaven coming at the last minute," Willett said. "I can't wait until the last week."
There are two-full time clerical workers at Lodi's circuit office who would lose their jobs if the cuts came through, he said.
Contact reporter Jordan Guinn at email@example.com.