Beginning Tuesday, the Jones County District Attorneys Office, which once staffed two prosecutors, wont have any on the payroll.
Prosecutors were in the midst of choosing a jury in a high profile murder trial Aug. 26 when they learned county commissioners had unanimously voted to defund the position for a county-paid prosecutor effective Tuesday, said Fred Bright, district attorney for the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit, which includes Jones and seven other counties.
Commissioners also axed a $5,000 local supplement paid to a state-funded prosecutor, Gregory Bushway, assigned to the office. Bushway has resigned, and his last day on the state payroll was Monday, Bright said.
Bushway and his former county-paid co-worker, Keagan Waystack, have said they plan to go into private practice, Bright said.
Bright said he has spoken at commission meetings since the vote and has pleaded for commissioners to refund the county-paid position.
Im hopeful that theyll give the position back, he said.
Commission Chairman Preston Hawkins said Friday that commissioners likely will discuss the position at their Oct. 8 meeting and make a decision at a meeting scheduled for Oct. 15.
Although Hawkins said hed rather wait to discuss the matter after the meetings, he said its a possibility that the position could be put back in the budget.
Bright said Jones County has paid for the position for about a decade.
No matter what commissioners decide, Bright is prohibited from filling Bushways slot until at least Dec. 1 due to a state hiring freeze mandating a two-month wait for hiring.
In recent weeks Bright and prosecutors who ordinarily work in other counties in the circuit have been drafted to help fill in the gaps while Waystack and Bushway burned accumulated leave time.
Were just grabbing as we can grab right now, Bright said.
Jones County Sheriff Butch Reece said deputies havent seen any impact on crime or the jail since the commissioners vote, and he doesnt foresee any problems.
The county jail can hold 125 inmates and this week had 106 beds filled. About 40 of the inmates are being held for other counties and could be moved out if needed, Reece said.
We are not in a crisis and dont anticipate one, he said.
When asked if he had concerns about offenders committing new crimes while spending more time on bond awaiting trial, Reece responded, Not any whatsoever.
Bright said Jones County prosecutors handle matters ranging from traffic ticket cases in which defendants request a jury trial on up to death penalty murder cases because the county doesnt have a separate State Court to handle misdemeanors.
He estimates theres already a backlog of about 300 cases with at least 100 misdemeanors needing to be arraigned. Between 50 and 75 felonies are awaiting indictment.
Cases are always coming in, Bright said.
He said continuing to bring in prosecutors assigned to work in other counties isnt a workable long-term solution to staffing the Jones County office.
Theyre working their tails off trying to try cases in their counties, he said. Thats not fair to other counties.
Until the recent staffing changes, the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit has staffed 10 prosecutors who work in Superior Court for eight counties: Baldwin, Greene, Hancock, Jasper, Jones, Morgan, Putnam and Wilkinson.
Until the Jones County commissioners vote, Baldwin, Greene and Jones counties paid for prosecutors to supplement the seven provided by the state, Bright said.
Typically, the pool of prosecutors is handling court cases in three to four different places daily while also preparing other cases for trial, he said.
We could always use more help, but that system we had was doable, Bright said. I need this county-paid (assistant district attorney) back desperately. Otherwise our workload in Jones County is not doable.
A prosecutor with 32 years experience, Bright said he wouldnt be able to do the job himself as a single prosecutor manning the office.
Without the county-paid position, theres no way we can do the job right, he said.
To contact Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.