Budget Cuts Mean Less Lawyers, Trying Fewer Cases

In a May 4th email, Deputy Attorney General Richard Svobodny told staff reductions will be in place by May 29th.
In a May 4th email, Deputy Attorney General Richard Svobodny told staff reductions will be in place by May 29th.

The Department of Law is cutting positions that will change the type of cases the state pursues in rural districts.

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Department employees were told in a May 4th email that 15 positions will be eliminated as part of an effort to close a 6% budget gap. The cuts take effect on May 29th.

Last year the Department cut four positions from larger offices, and taken together Deputy Attorney General Richard Svobodny said the cuts are spread equitably across the state. The effects, however, are more evident in rural hub communities.

“In Dillingham, in Kotzebue, in Barrow,” Svobodny said, “we will have gone from four people in the offices to two in the offices.”

Other communities losing either attorneys, para-legals, or support positions are Bethel, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Sitka, as well as the Office of Special Prosecutions in Anchorage.

94% of the Department’s budget is for fixed costs like personnel and leases, with the rest going to discretionary necessities like travel related to cases. With less staff, prosecutors will have to be even more selective on what kinds of cases they pursue.

“We are not going have as much time to spend on each case,” Svobodny said. “Some of the less serious, non-personal crimes are going to get less attention than they did in the past.”

The Department’s budget was built on state revenues forecasting oil at more than $100 a barrel, according to Svobodny, who anticipates more cost reductions in the years ahead.

Critics of the state and federal government’s role in rural Alaska say there is already a “law gap,” with too few law enforcement officials based in hubs tasked with responding to incidents in smaller communities.

The reductions will ensure the Department is only pursuing serious charges, and cutting out cases where there are civil alternatives to criminal proceedings. They are also examining sharing space with sister agencies like the State Troopers in the future.

Six of the eliminated positions will come through attrition.