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Franklin Co. works on attorney offices' staff growing pains

June 11, 2006|by DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, PA.

When John F. Nelson was hired by the Franklin County District Attorney's Office in 1977, the staff consisted of District Attorney John Walker, Nelson, a part-time assistant district attorney and two secretaries.

Now the district attorney, Nelson, employs five full-time assistant district attorneys, three part-time attorneys, a restitution coordinator, four clerical and administrative workers and several contract employees, not all of whom can fit into the suite of offices on the fourth floor of the courthouse annex.

Earlier this week, the Board of County Commissioners approved contracts for expansions of both the District Attorney's Office and Public Defender Michael Toms' office. The electrical, mechanical and plumbing contracts total $137,510, but the county will be acting as its own general contractor, Assistant County Administrator Kelly Livermore said.

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Using its own staff and buying materials to remodel what had been the law library, the county will spend about $100,000 more on the project, Livermore said. The law library last year moved across Lincoln Way East into the offices of the Franklin County Bar Association in the Heritage Center.

Livermore said work on the fourth floor, which will give both the district attorney and public defender about 1,700 square feet of additional space, will begin in July.

The expansion is supposed to be completed by late September, said Matthew Earl, county purchasing director.

In 1977, the District Attorney's Office was in a house situated where the annex now stands, Nelson said recently. It later moved into space in an old bank building while the annex was being built, he said.

In the 1970s, about 300 new criminal cases would be filed each year, Nelson said. In recent years, the caseload has exceeded 2,200 per year, and "the juvenile caseload has expanded tremendously."

Assistant District Attorney Bret Palmer estimated the office handles more than 600 juvenile cases per year, triple the number of just a few years ago. Drug cases and violent crimes are leading the juvenile crime wave, she said.

Nelson said his office has two victim and witness advocates contracted through Women In Need and a part-time investigator who also works under contract.

"We're hoping to move them back in to our office" once the expansion is completed, Nelson said.

The Public Defender's Office has seen a similar increase in the number of cases and staffing over the past three decades.

In the late 1970s, the late Public Defender Blake Martin had one full-time assistant public defender, a part-time public defender, a paralegal and one secretary. Toms now has four full-time assistants, one part-time assistant, an investigator, a paralegal office administrator and two full-time secretaries, according to his office.

The Public Defender's Office hires contract attorneys for support court and juvenile court, according to a member of his staff.

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