MONTGOMERY COUNTY – District Attorney Lorraine Diamond got some of the support she requested from the county Legislature on Tuesday, but not all of it.
The Legislature voted 7-2 to approve the creation of a full-time network systems administrator with a base salary of $62,130 plus $21,000 in benefit costs, but left Diamond’s two other requests — the creation of a 1st assistant district attorney (base pay $98,000, plus benefits) and a full-time law clerk — tabled for now.
County Executive Matt Ossenfort Tuesday night made the case for the Legislature to act swiftly to approve Diamond’s request for the creation of the network systems administrator. The position is intended to assist both the district attorney’s and sheriff’s offices to meet the new requirements of New York state’s 2019 Criminal Justice Discovery Reform law, which requires prosecutors to reveal evidence gathered against defendants faster than in the past. Ossenfort said the need for the new information technology employee is significant, and most of the cost will be offset by the elimination of a $20,244 microcomputer technician position already included in the county’s 2021 budget.
“The additional requirements for [legal] discovery from an IT perspective are cumbersome for the sheriff and the district attorney, and that creates the need for the additional help,” Ossenfort said. “This was originally passed as a part-time position, but in discussions with the sheriff, there was talk of sharing the cost of that position and sharing that position, something I think is a good move, moving forward.”
During the Legislature’s monthly committee meetings on June 15, Diamond requested the Legislature use a portion of a $206,781 state Criminal Justice Discovery Reform Grant to pay for three new jobs. Diamond made her presentation to the county’s Public Safety Committee, which did not object to the new jobs, but the county’s Personnel Committee chose to table the requests. Ossenfort convinced the Legislature to put the full-time network systems administrator job back on Tuesday night’s agenda.
The cost for the network systems administrator can in the short term be paid for by the grant, Ossenfort said.
During committee meetings on June 15, District 9 Legislator Robert Purtell raised the issue of the ongoing costs of the creation of the new positions in Diamond’s department after the grant funding was exhausted, but acknowledged the county has had continual problems with not having enough information technology personnel.
“I know when the district attorney was looking to have five computers installed in January, they sat on her floor because there was nobody to install them,” he said.
Diamond has said the first assistant district attorney job could act as her surrogate when she is required to be in multiple places simultaneously, and if the position were created she would promote one of the county’s four full-time assistant district attorneys — James Melita, Christina Pearson, Peter M. Califano or William Berger, each currently paid $78,000.
She said she would then like to hire a young lawyer who has passed the New Jersey bar exam but has not yet passed the New York state bar exam, to serve as the full-time law clerk, to be paid a prorated base pay of $26,593, plus benefits costing $26,593. The law clerk would be tasked with legal research and applying for any state and federal grants available to help fund operations for the county District Attorney’s Office. Her hope would be the attorney would pass the state bar exam and be eligible to fill the vacated assistant district attorney slot opened up by the promotion of one of the assistant district attorneys. The Legislature approved the creation of a fourth full-time assistant district attorney earlier this year.
Members of the county’s Personnel Committee, including District 1 Legislator Martin Kelly, said they had too many unanswered questions about how the positions would be funded and decided to table the requests.
Ossenfort said there will need to be additional discussions in July about the new positions Diamond has requested.
“I think there will be much more information forthcoming as we move forward,” he said. “I think, also the district attorney is also getting acclimated to the process, getting acclimated to our county procedures, civil service, things of that nature.”