DA RESPONDS TO ASSET FORFEITURE STORY

June 16, 2013

DA Paul L. Howard, Jr.The use of money seized from drug dealers allocated by Georgia law to district attorneys for prosecutorial functions is a matter of public interest. I welcome a public discussion of this issue. Even though these are not taxpayer funds, we treat them as such. That is why we keep accurate records and follow state and federal guidelines carefully.

In my opinion, successful criminal justice efforts are not limited to traditional law enforcement purposes, but also involve new ideas and solutions which are utilized by modern prosecutors across the country. My management of forfeiture funds is guided by my philosophy of prevention, community engagement, and the recruitment, recognition and retention of quality prosecutors. This philosophy has paid off. During my tenure, we have raised our trial conviction rates from 52% to over 90%.

Under state law, seized funds may be spent “at the discretion of the chief officer of the [local district attorneys’ offices]”. The funds cannot replace funding already provided for in the general budget and cannot pay employee salaries. In other words, I cannot use these funds to offset furloughs and layoffs as others have inaccurately implied.

When I took office in January 1997, I decided to spend these confiscated funds to improve community relations and to develop new and innovative youth programs aimed at reducing drug use and juvenile crime. I soon realized, however, that unless I worked to reduce the 50 percent prosecutor turnover rate and poor morale, I could never reach my goal of increasing community safety.

Consequently, over the years, I have used the state-confiscated funds to reward my employees with an annual awards banquet and provide admission to legal and nonprofit events with organizational goals consistent with our mission. My employees are underpaid public servants who are not allowed to receive bonuses or other forms of direct financial rewards and most have not received raises in several years. Were it not for this office sponsorship, they would be unable to attend these events. As a result of these efforts, the 50% turnover rate that we experienced in 1997 has been reduced to 10% or less. Clearly, these expenditures should not be characterized as wasteful ‘galas and meals’. Furthermore, we are always looking to add intelligent, hardworking people to our staff. That is why our largest single allocation (33%) is utilized to fund our law student/summer associate internship program, which has produced many permanent employees for our office.

Interestingly, when the funds are used for what should be considered ‘direct law enforcement purposes,’ even these expenditures are questioned. The office spent a small portion of the drug funds on security measures for me and three members of my staff who prosecute violent offenders and gang members. In the last few months, a district attorney and his wife in Texas and the prison chief in Colorado were assassinated at the front doors of their homes. Over the years, my staff and I have received numerous death threats. Thus, for our protection and the safety of our families–not to enhance the values of our homes–we hardened our home security. These singular security enhancements – paid for with drug funds – cost the public nothing. Stationing salaried police officers at our homes on the taxpayer’s dime, as is done by many elected officials, would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. I chose the most cost effective option. Furthermore, the base security system at my home was purchased and installed by me–for which I pay monthly.

I realize that for many people it is difficult to accept a district attorney functioning in any role other than that of putting people in jail. However, my constituents constantly tell me that in addition to prosecuting criminals, they want innovative programs designed to prevent crime. I have listened to them, and I have made both goals my commitment to the citizens of Fulton County. While we engage the community in innovative ways and recognize employee achievements, we are also fulfilling our prosecutorial mandate without compromise. Our 92% conviction trial rate is proof. For further information, please see the following articles.

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