Richmond County board of supervisors grant funding to commonwealth’s attorney
The future prosecution of misdemeanors in Richmond County is safe for now, at least until the next fiscal year begins.
Last week, members voted 4-1, with only Dist. 3 Supervisor John Haynes dissenting, to continue the previously approved funding of a full-time assistant for Commonwealth Attorney Wayne Emery’s office, a move the top legal eagle had previously said was intrinsic to the continuing function of the local judicial process.
On Dec. 13, during their regular meeting, supervisors declined to change their previously granted approval to replace a full-time employee at Emery’s office with a part-time worker.
The decision came after Emery, who could not attend the meeting due to a prior engagement, had previously refuted Haynes’ claim that documents showed his office did not meet state requirements for the position.
At the time, Emery said that should his office be downsized, misdemeanor prosecution might be put on the back burner so as to more effectively handle an increasing load of felony cases.
In November, Haynes disclosed the commonwealth’s staffing requirements for Emery’s office, highlighting that the position of an assistant is currently recommended for funding as a part-time position.
Quoting the document, Haynes said that of the 120 state-run offices, Richmond County is ranked 112th in terms of immediate need for office personnel.
Haynes did not mention, however, that the same document also supported Emery’s oft-repeated request for an assistant commonwealth’s attorney, saying that full-time and part-time positions were overdue.
Additionally, of all four counties on the Northern Neck, Emery’s is the least staffed, with Westmoreland, Lancaster and Northumberland each having assistant attorneys as well as support personnel.
In June, Emery resigned as county attorney, which did not affect his role in the commonwealth, saying that the divide between Haynes and himself began after he declined to “bend to [Haynes’] demand,” that he render an opinion as to whether those supervisors who voted yes on last year’s school issue had violated the commonwealth’s conflict of interest statute.
According to a letter sent last month by Michael Doucette, the president of the Virginia Association of Commonwealth’s Attorneys, Haynes used the staffing standards in a way that was not intended.
Doucette said that the document was a guideline for the state to allocate limited funds, considering only the time commonwealth’s attorneys spend in Circuit Court, and not General District and Juvenile and Domestic Relations Courts.
It was a stance, that after much deliberation, Dist. 1 Supervisor Richard Thomas ultimately agreed with.
Thomas said that although he initially thought that Emery’s workload would be decreased by his recent resignation as the county’s attorney, after taking into consideration Emery’s burden as commonwealth’s attorney, he could not in good conscience change his original decision.
“With the number of deputies that are on staff now and with the demands that probably come with those numbers… he probably needs more help with this as a full time position, as it was presented in September, and that is what I am thinking,” Thomas said.
Haynes disagreed, saying that the “whole key to the review” was the benefits that come along with the full time position.
“Do we want the taxpayers to have a long term obligation that would be hard to get out of or do we want more flexibility. I think that is the reason it came up is financial reasons,” Haynes said.
Chairman Lee Sanders disagreed, siding with Thomas.
“The position is already budgeted for a full time person,” Sanders said. “And, we have already [approved Emery’s request]. I don’t know why we have to go back and keep re-looking and rehash this.”
According to Haynes, the matter will be revisited during the next annual budget hearing in June 2013.
“The amount of monies we will have on hand is certainly going to enter into my thinking on the subject,” he said.