Millions of dollars going to prosecutors following Channel 2 investigation

GEORGIA — A Channel 2 investigation is getting results for Georgia prosecutors.

They’ve complained of slow payouts or none from a state program using federal dollars to ease court backlogs.

Channel 2 investigative reporter Mark Winne started asking questions. Now millions of dollars are going directly to prosecutors.

A district attorney said this is important to crime victims, defendants waiting on their day in court and for the safety of our streets.

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Wright Barksdale, the district attorney of the eight-county Ocmulgee Circuit southeast of metro Atlanta said he was thrilled when his office was awarded money for temporary positions that would help with the COVID-19 case backlog. He then worried the locals would be holding the bag for that money, but now he has new hope.

“As many of the district attorneys across the state will tell you, we’re almost in a crisis because of the backlog of cases. We’re pedaling as fast as we can,” he said.

Barksdale said his office was awarded a sliver of the roughly $96 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding Gov. Brian Kemp dedicated last fall to reducing the pandemic backlog in court cases, especially those involving serious violent felonies, but it had a big impact.

Barksdale used it to hire a new investigator.

“It’s been a game changer for us because in our eight-county circuit, we’ve only had one investigator for eight counties,” he said.

Barksdale said the problem was he hired the new investigator in January and a new victim advocate in February with the promised ARPA money, but so far the state has not reimbursed any of the victim advocate’s salary.

For the investigator, he said, “We have received one reimbursement check and that was for January. We are still waiting for the other months to come through.”

He said that had put a big budget strain at the local level.

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Kemp’s office said late October the governor earmarked the $96 million in ARPA money to attack the backlog of violent crime and other issues, but as of this week only just over $113,000 of it had gone out across the state.

Alerted by our investigation that began weeks ago, a visit by Barksdale and Coweta Circuit DA Herb Cranford and other red flags, the governor is cutting through the red tape and awarding up to $25 million directly to DAs through the prosecuting attorney’s council.

“I really appreciate their sensibility and the way they reacted,” Barksdale said.

The governor’s office said to make sure the needs of different court systems across the state were addressed, the governor’s office of planning and budget (OPB) and the administrative office of the courts (AOC) entered into a joint agreement to ensure the ARPA money went where it’s supposed to go.

Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice David Nahmias said as chair of the state judicial council, which oversees the AOC, he knows judges share the frustration over the pace of reimbursements.

“We’re all kind of frustrated, but it is a giant process,” he said

Nahmias said the council and AOC have worked hard to overcome bureaucratic hurdles while making sure federal and OPB rules for using the money are followed. He said they’ve worked with OPB to streamline their requirements for reimbursements.

“The process and some of the problems are starting to be cleared up,” he said.

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The governor’s office said OPB got its first request for reimbursement from AOC March 9, and that $25 million to the prosecutors is a new grant over and above the $96 million.

“I think everybody is working as hard as they can work to resolve issues,” Barksdale said.

Winne was sent information that indicated the AOC has awarded almost $41 million dollars.

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