ELLSWORTH — Prosecutorial District 7, which consists of Hancock and Washington counties, was the only district in Maine not to get an assistant district attorney during a recent round of appropriations.
District attorneys from the state’s eight prosecutorial districts, through the Attorney General’s Office, make requests for additional prosecutors to the legislature. In this last legislative session, 22 additional assistant district attorneys were requested. The Legislature funded 10 positions, according to Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson. Anderson also is president of the Maine Prosecutors Association.
The former district attorney for Hancock and Washington counties, Dee Bassano, who left office at the end of December, had requested one additional prosecutor, Anderson said.
When it became apparent that only 10 positions would be funded, and that information came at the last minute, Matt Foster, the current district attorney for Hancock and Washington counties, “deferred” to the other districts, Anderson said.
Foster, in a recent interview, acknowledged that the chance of getting an additional prosecutor from the pool of 10 was slim.
“The way the number of cases for 2014 worked out, Hancock and Washington counties had the lowest number of cases per prosecutor,” he said.
Instead, Foster has his sights set on a special drug prosecutor working exclusively in his district. These prosecutors are assigned by the Attorney General. Currently, Assistant Attorney General Pat Larson splits his caseload between Penobscot and Hancock counties.
Foster noted that the Legislature has approved funding for two new drug prosecutors. What districts will get the additional help is yet to be seen.
Foster and Anderson agree that there is a need of additional prosecutors in the state. The need isn’t driven by increased caseloads. Instead, it’s the amount of evidence prosecutors now have to wade though in order to present a case.
“Each case takes a lot longer than it used to, even simple OUI cases,” Anderson said.
Prosecutors more and more find themselves having to view videos, review cell phone records and computer files along with considering other evidence that exists due to technological advances. And they have to provide this evidence to defense attorneys as part of the discovery process.
“It’s overwhelming the number of discovery requests we get now,” Foster said. “Each case has 10 times the magnitude of paperwork.”
That mountain of paperwork has Foster looking to add a person to the administrative staff at his office. Unlike the prosecutors, who are state employees, administrative personnel are county employees. The decision on hiring someone new falls to county commissioners.