With more cases and fewer attorneys, Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann worries the prosecutor's office could be nearing a 'breaking point.'
Budget cuts are a reality for seemingly every Vanderburgh County government office. But Hermann worries those cuts, coupled with more cases, could have consequences down the road.
Balanced are the scales of justice and the burden of proof falls on Vanderburgh County Prosecutor Nick Hermann. But lately, he and his staff have had an entirely different burden.
"If we continue to get more and more cases and have to deal with them at the same amount or less staff, at some point there's going to be a breaking point," said Nick Hermann, Vanderburgh County Prosecutor.
The workload is growing he says and it's almost overwhelming. According to Hermann, it's starting to bed the question of the office's effectiveness in the future.
"We have great law enforcement that first respond and do things that prepare case reports," Hermann said. "But if you bring them to a prosecutor's office that doesn't have the ability or capacity to process those correctly, then you have a problem."
It's a problem Hermann says he can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.
The number of felony filings has risen from 2,529 in 2008 to 2,770 in 2010 to more than 3200 in 2012, according to statistics obtained by Eyewitness News. Meanwhile, the number of attorneys has decreased from 23 in 2008 to 19.5 in 2012.
Hermann has 18 full-time attorneys and three part-time attorneys. For statistical purposes, Hermann considers the part-time attorneys as 'halves.'
Also, in a letter written to the County Council back in 2000, Former County Prosecutor Stan Levco forecasted the problem.
One of the major factors in the increase of felony filings, according to Hermann, is the pro-active approach from law enforcement when it comes to the meth epidemic in the area.
Vanderburgh County consistently ranks among the top in terms of meth lab incidents. Eventually, all of the charges filed in connection with the manufacturing of meth and 'smurfing' will eventually funnel into the prosecutor's office.
"Everybody is really happy to see a meth suppression unit or to see some sort of task force formed," Hermann said. "But at the same time, we have not seen a corresponding increase in our budget. In fact, over the last couple years, we've seen a decrease."
In 2012, the law enforcement budget for the county's agencies came to a total of $46 million. The Evansville Police Department's budget was $30.6 million. The budget for the Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Office, including the jail, totaled $13.5 million. The budget for the Vanderburgh County Prosecutor's Office was just under $2 million.
"This is not a request that we want some big Cadillac, ultra-funded prosecutor's office," Hermann said. "We want to maintain a minimum level of staffing so we can do our jobs."
Hermann says the problem is apparent but the jury is still out on how to fix it.
"The easy answer is that there needs to be a public discussion about it," Hermann said. "I don't know if there is a silver bullet. [Our funding] needs to be tied to something so that when filings increase, staff increases. Right now, we're heading in the wrong direction."