MARIETTA — The assistant district attorneys who run the county’s accountability court programs were “drowning (in work) last year,” said their boss, Joyette Holmes.
Holmes, Cobb County’s district attorney, is seeking the Board of Commissioners’ help in easing the attorneys’ burden. Tuesday, commissioners will consider allowing Holmes’ office to keep the money it collects through its pretrial diversion program in order to fund a new position there.
Tucked within the document outlining Holmes’ request, however, was the fact that she recently halved the fee her office charges participants of the pretrial diversion program.
The program gives first-time, nonviolent offenders the opportunity to have their charges dismissed if they take part in counseling, education, drug screening or community service work. Holmes reduced the pretrial diversion fee from $450 to $200.
West Cobb Commissioner Keli Gambrill said she was concerned by the move at an agenda review session Monday morning.
“Your expenses are going to increase with the number of people that you’re treating,” she said before asking whether the board was prepared to commit to increasing the program’s funding.
In a written letter to the county manager, Holmes also said reducing the fee wouldn’t have a negative impact on county finances.
“It is expected that the number of participants will increase moderately while the revenue either remains neutral,” she wrote, “or revenue will increase as the number of participants increases significantly with the lower fee.”
But at Monday’s meeting, Holmes said it was also a matter of equity.
“By not lowering the fee for diversion, we are basically keeping people out of the program just because they can’t afford it,” she said. “Not because they weren’t eligible to do it. Just because they can’t afford it. So I have no hesitation or regrets about reducing that fee.”
County Chairman Mike Boyce said the decision was Holmes’ to make.
“Our responsibility is to support our elected officials,” he said. “I made it very clear here that we’re not going to get in the nitty-gritty of how they do their job.”
The money raised by the diversion court fees currently goes to the county’s general fund. Over the past 10 years, the amount raised each year has averaged just over $82,000. Holmes is asking for the board to return that money to the district attorney’s office to fund a “court support supervisor position.”
“The workload associated with the diversion program has been carried by administrative staff as an additional task to their normal job functions. With the anticipated expansion of this program, the need for a Diversion Program Coordinator has reached a critical point,” Holmes wrote in her request.