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Berkeley Co. prosecutor seeking new assistants

February 25, 2005|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Because of heavy caseloads and inadequate salaries, Berkeley County Prosecutor Pamela Games-Neely has lost prosecutors possessing 70 years worth of experience in the last five years.

Three of her current assistant prosecutors have less than a year's worth of experience.

"They're lucky to find their way to the courthouse," Games-Neely said, adding that she means them no disrespect.

Games-Neely presented her budget for the upcoming fiscal year Thursday afternoon to the Berkeley County Commission. She asked that she be allowed to hire five more assistant prosecutors, along with two full-time secretaries and a part-time secretary. She also is seeking raises for all of her employees.

The commissioners listened to Games-Neely's presentation and asked questions, but did not make any decisions.

Commission President Steve Teufel proposed that the $101,000 in the county's Rainy Day Fund be used so Games-Neely can immediately hire two prosecutors and two secretaries to keep up with the workload. The motion died because neither of the other commissioners seconded it.

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Commissioner Howard Strauss said it would be "arbitrary and capricious" to give Games-Neely such funding, and not to fund other requests made by other county officials.

"Arbitrary and capricious" is the same language used numerous times in a lawsuit filed by Games-Neely in December 2004 against the County Commission. She was joined in the suit by Sheriff Randy Smith, Circuit Clerk Virginia Sine and former Assessor Evelyn Fink. Preston Gooden was elected to replace Fink, who did not seek another term in office.

The suit, which demands that more money and personnel be given to county officials, is pending. It was not mentioned Thursday.

During her presentation, Games-Neely said her assistant prosecutors face a caseload well above the national average.

Nationally, prosecutors handle around 500 cases a year. Prosecutors in Berkeley County are handling 1,120 cases on average, she said. The county ranks No. 2 in the state in the number of sexual assaults, aggravated robberies and violent crimes, she said.

Ideally, each of the county's two circuit judges would have two assistant prosecutors assigned to him. Now, one assistant splits the duties.

"I don't have bodies some days just to go to court," Games-Neely said, adding later, "We are now at crisis stage."

Seven hundred cases are awaiting presentation to a grand jury, with another 50 felony cases being filed every week. There have been 12 robberies alone in the last four days, Games-Neely said.

Prosecutors expect to work 50 hours a week, but are working 60 to 70.

Strauss asked Games-Neely whether she would rather have more personnel or higher salaries for her existing employees.

Without both, employees are likely to continue quitting, she said.

Teufel said he hopes the commissioners will continue to discuss dipping into the Rainy Day Fund to allow Games-Neely to immediately hire more personnel, rather than waiting until the next budget year begins on July 1.

"We've dug a hole and I'm trying to get us out of that hole," Teufel said.

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