Grant loss hits district attorney’s office

Grant County District Attorney Jim Carpenter talks to the Grant County Court on Sept. 12 about the loss of grant funding for the deputy district attorney, victim intervention specialist and special investigator.

Grant County District Attorney Jim Carpenter says he may need to triage cases with the loss of a deputy district attorney.

If he has to choose between prosecuting a trespass case or a domestic violence case, he will choose the latter, he told the Grant County Court Sept. 12.

The district attorney’s office was not approved for continued Violence Against Women Act grant funding that amounted to $167,000 per year. Carpenter said he learned about the loss in funding on Sept. 10, and it coincides with the departure of Deputy District Attorney Mara Houck, who will leave Sept. 21 for a position with the Deschutes County District Attorney’s Office.

Houck prosecuted all cases involving sex abuse, child abuse and domestic violence. The VAWA funding also supported a victim intervention specialist and special investigator, Carpenter said. That three-year grant cycle ends Sept. 30. Grant County has received the grant for four consecutive cycles, he said.

Remaining grant funds could last until next March, but the county will need to extend the grant cycle to access the remaining funds, Carpenter said. Other than that, he said he doesn’t have a lot of answers.

“A prosecutor from the Criminal Division of the Oregon Department of Justice will be appointed as a special prosecutor on the more serious sex abuse cases on Deputy Houck’s caseload,” Carpenter told the Eagle.

The court approved Carpenter’s request to contract with another attorney to resolve Houck’s remaining cases.

“Local attorney Riccola Voigt has agreed to contract with the district attorney’s office to provide that service,” Carpenter told the Eagle.

Carpenter told the court the new hire could take on new cases over time and provide continuity for a new deputy district attorney.

Calling the loss of the deputy district attorney a “safety issue,” Commissioner Rob Raschio asked Treasurer Julie Ellison to look for places in the budget where funds could be shifted to pay for the deputy district attorney position.

Raschio noted that the district attorney’s position is paid by the state, but deputy district attorney positions across the state are funded either by grants or through a county budget. He called the system of funding deputy district attorneys with grants “a crazy idea.”

Jim Sproul noted that Grant County Counsel Ron Yockim may retire soon and the court could consider consolidating the district attorney’s office with the county counsel as a way to pay for a deputy district attorney. Sproul said other Oregon counties combine district attorney and county counsel offices.

Raschio asked Ellison to look into Sproul’s idea, noting that while it might help solve the question of how to fund a deputy district attorney, it would not solve the problem of funding a victim intervention specialist and special investigator.

Grant County Judge Scott Myers, however, noted that Yockim is paid $2,750 per month, which is not enough to fund a replacement deputy district attorney.

Raschio also pointed out that the VAWA grant provided 0.75 full-time employee funding for the Heart of Grant County director, and the group will need a director to help in its current efforts to build an emergency shelter.

The Heart of Grant County, a nonprofit established in 2008 to provide advocacy and support services for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and stalking, moved into a small house in June 2016 that provided office space and an apartment for emergency shelter service. Prior to that, the only shelter services the organization could provide were at local motels or shelters outside the area.

Plans are in the works to build a facility to provide office space and emergency shelter needs. The organization purchased a property in John Day, and a Phase 1 environmental study assessment of the property was conducted using $3,100 from Business Oregon.

The court on Sept. 12 approved a request from Economic Development Coordinator Sally Bartlett to submit a pre-application on behalf of Heart of Grant County for a community development block grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

If approved, Heart of Grant County will be invited to submit a formal request. The estimated grant amount is $980,000, which may not be enough to complete the project, according to board minutes. Cost estimates of $366 per square foot for the building run to about $1.2 million.

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