Revenue shortfalls as a result of the COVID-19 shutdown of the state's court system are hitting home for 16th Judicial District Attorney Bo Duhé, who announced furloughs for a large portion of his staff Friday.
“We, like other businesses in our community, must operate within our means," Duhé said. "The DA’s office is a service organization. Salaries of employees comprise the vast majority of the overall expenses. Therefore, unfortunately that means the only meaningful way to cut costs is by reducing staff."
Those furloughs will affect 45 members of the 117 employees in the District Attorney's Office across the 16th Judicial District Court, which covers St. Mary, Iberia and St. Martin parishes.
"Hopefully, this action is temporary and many of these employees can return to work when revenues return to pre-pandemic levels or significant federal, state or parish funding becomes available," Duhé said. "Until such time as that occurs, it will be necessary for the remaining staff members to take on additional tasks in an effort to continue to fulfill the constitutional and statutory duties and responsibilities of the office during these difficult times.”
A significant portion of the District Attorney’s funding is from self-generated funds related to court costs and fines and fees, including traffic citations. The COVID-19 pandemic has limited court functions and reduced traffic enforcement while law enforcement focused on more pressing matters, including protecting their personal safety through social distancing.
Duhé said the cuts became necessary to ensure the continued financial stability of the District Attorney’s Office. Looking forward, Duhé said he hopes that the current shutdown and the resulting evaporation of revenue to support the operation of the courts forces a discussion of how to avoid situations like this in the future.
“It is my sincere hope that this pandemic and the resulting fiscal crisis will provoke a meaningful discussion about how the criminal justice system is presently funded and the need to establish a more stable funding source for public safety,” said Duhé. “Such a crucial debate is long overdue. We simply cannot allow these events to deliver such a debilitating fiscal blow to the proper functioning of the public safety network.”
Although the U.S. Congress is still considering a bill that would provide funds for local and state governments, the funds already provided under the CARES Act can only be used to offset or reimburse expenditures, not to cover shortfalls in revenue.