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December 20, 2014

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Commissioners question spending on death penalty cases

David Roger

David Roger

Chris Giunchigliani

Chris Giunchigliani

County budget

KSNV coverage of Clark County budget talks, April 27, 2011.

During a meeting to examine how to balance next fiscal year’s budget, Clark County elected officials hammered on District Attorney David Roger, questioning whether the county’s top prosecutor tries too many costly death penalty cases.

Commissioner Steve Sisolak said he recently received some 50 phone calls and e-mails from constituents after a newspaper reported 80 death penalty cases pending in the county.

That compares to Riverside County in California, about the same size as Clark County, which has 40 pending death penalty cases, according to figures provided to the Sun by the county Public Defenders Office. Los Angeles County, five times Clark County’s size, has 33 pending death penalty cases.

After Wednesday’s meeting, county officials estimated it costs about $250,000 to defend a death penalty case versus about $50,000 for a non-death penalty murder case.

Roger blamed the Public Defenders Office, saying it strategically withholds background information on some defendants until the end of a case. If Roger’s office had the information earlier, it might reduce the number of times the death penalty is sought, he said.

During the meeting, Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani asked Roger for a cost, or average cost, per death penalty case.

Roger didn’t know the answer.

“Do we not have numbers?” Giunchigliani asked.

Roger then attacked Giunchigliani as being “anti-death penalty.”

Giunchigliani said the exchange wasn’t a philosophical discussion; it was about the county budget, which has to be cut.

Commissioner Tom Collins echoed Giunchigliani’s complaint, saying he couldn’t understand “why our folks who deal with courts can’t provide us with what it costs per burglary, per car theft, per this, per that and the other.”

Last month, Roger sent a memo to commissioners saying he would not comply with a request to find 9 percent budget cuts, a memo that infuriated some commissioners and county staff looking to every agency to make cuts to offset steep reductions in property and sales tax revenues.

But figures provided to commissioners showed Roger cutting three vacant positions that, if filled, would have cost an additional $516,000.

County Manager Don Burnette praised Roger’s about-face. “I appreciate it. He deserves a lot of credit for doing that,” Burnette said.

Sisolak pleaded with Roger to work with the Public Defenders Office to figure out ways to share more information ahead of time to potentially reduce the number of death penalty cases filed.

Earlier in the meeting, county staff gave commissioners a preliminary look at budget cuts to meet a $100 million shortfall in the coming fiscal year. In summary, the county expects to cut 82 filled positions and eliminate 115 vacant positions to save almost $39 million.

The rest of the shortfall would be made up mostly from the county’s budget reserve, which stands at about $100 million.

Chief Financial Officer George Stevens said cutting the entire $100 million in one year is unfeasible, so roughly half would come this year and half would come in fiscal year 2013.

The largest number of job cuts would come from six main areas: five from Fire Prevention; seven from Public Works; 11 from the County Commission/County Manager’s Office; 12 from the Assessor’s Office; 13 from Real Property Management; and 14 from Juvenile Justice.

Business license, comprehensive planning, and parks and recreation would lose four filled positions each.

Sheriff Doug Gillespie said he will dig into his $80 million fund balance to offset reductions in contributions from the county and the city of Las Vegas, which funds about 70 percent of Metro’s budget.

The city and county expect to reduce contributions to Metro by $27.6 million. By the end of the next fiscal year, Metro’s fund balance will be reduced to about $40 million, or 8 percent of its total budget.

Collins, meanwhile, made a suggestion he has made several times over the last few years — but now local economists are saying behind the scenes that he’s right. Though it won’t help now because of decreasing property values, he said, the state needs to eliminate the 3 percent and 8 percent caps on how much property taxes can increase in a year.

He also talked about the need to increase property tax rates, which is something politicians are terrified to mention.

“Maybe people can pay more property tax,” he said. “We haven’t had increases in several years.”

Commissioners need to deliver a budget to the state by June 1. They will continue their budget discussion at their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday.

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  1. Schoenmann -- why no mention of the attorneys Rogers sends to harass that poor guy and his family, Fatayo (Tafayo? the immigrant acquitted after sitting in jail for over a year, then the county took his kids because he was coming home)??

    Too often public prosecutors like Rogers run their offices like a normal law practice -- it's all about the billable hours. Far too often they prosecute cases that have nothing to do with justice at all. And they most definitely don't consider them accountable to anyone about anything.

    Giunchigliani was 100% in the right on this one. The commissioners need to take that ax to Rogers' budget and end his empire building.

    "The legal system has also been wounded by lawyers who themselves no longer respect the rule of law ..... When lawyers cannot be trusted to observe the fair processes essential to maintaining the rule of law, how can we expect the public to respect the process?" -- the Honorable Edith Jones to Harvard's Federalist Club "American Legal System Is Corrupt Beyond Recognition, Judge Tells Harvard Law School" 2/28/03

  2. An easy solution to the "cost" problem: speed up the executions. Why do these scumbags sit on death row for decades? Charge 'em in the morning; try 'em in the afternoon; hang 'em in the evening! Well, not really, but for Pete's sake, speed up the process!

  3. Life in prison is a much worse sentence then getting the death penalty. I would rather be shot in the back of the head, than be stuck in a prison with a bunch of thugs for the rest of my life.

  4. Unless the death penalty is eliminated, we could face a loss of tourism from the more humane European Countries.

  5. Give those sentenced to life without parole a "suicide button" in their cells. I bet a noticeable number would use it.

  6. "...speed up the executions. Why do these scumbags sit on death row for decades?"

    lvfacts101 -- your post is childish. Evidently you've never had the cops and an ambitious prosecutor hot for you -- you don't have to be guilty of anything. Barry Scheck's Innocence Project has proven over and over again how flawed convictions are and how decades can be robbed from an innocent man's life. A recent outgoing Illinois governor commuted all death sentences after discovering how shoddy and corrupt the state's criminal "just us" system really was.

    Google fred zain dna false and get some truth. Finally, if you can find it you should read the late Florynce Kennedy's "Whorehouse Theory of Law."

    "The legal system has also been wounded by lawyers who themselves no longer respect the rule of law ..... When lawyers cannot be trusted to observe the fair processes essential to maintaining the rule of law, how can we expect the public to respect the process?" -- the Honorable Edith Jones to Harvard's Federalist Club "American Legal System Is Corrupt Beyond Recognition, Judge Tells Harvard Law School" 2/28/03

  7. Ending the death penalty as a means to save taxpayers some money is a false argument...lawyers will simply cash in elsewhere on the taxpayers dime...They will not be denied a life of champagne wishes & caviar dreams on the taxpayers dime....You can bet on that...

  8. Killerb: Yeah, that's right. The cops have nothing better to do than pin the guilt on "innocent" people. You watch too much Hollywood clap-trap! Whether on the "big" screen or TV, Hollywood writers delight in turning cops into monsters violating everyones rights! If we were to believe their "politically correct" BS, everyone in prison is a real softy down deep; we just don't understand the poor souls. Manson, Bundy, Gacy, BTK, all sweethearts who were just "misunderstood, right? It's them we should feel sorry for. Damn their victims! They shouldn't have provoked the "sweethearts" into violence! Sure mistakes are made by law enforcement but, I submit, none as egregious as the crimes committed by thugs, rapists and murderers. I don't shed a tear for any of them!

  9. Ignore KillerB. He just explained his bias in a comment on another article. Apparently is son is a double felon, but he's convinced that his son never did anything wrong. Therefore he will always claim that all criminals are innocent and all cops/prosecutors/judges are just railraoding them.

    I'd suggest that he take as many of these "law abiding citizens who got railraoded into false convictions" as possible into his home and show them that he trusts them completely. Then we'll see how long his faith in their better nature lasts.

  10. "You watch too much Hollywood clap-trap!"

    lvfacts101 -- I don't have a TV. That's how wrong all your assumptions are. And it's quite evident you prefer ignorance to spending thirty seconds online checking out Barry Scheck, his Innocence Project, or Fred Zain. Or just about anything written by Radley Balko.

    bghs1986 -- your post showed one doesn't have to look far for good examples of cop corruption. The point is accountability, and there's virtually none beyond the occasional bone Metro throws us. Just ask Erik Scott's survivors.

    wendor -- you were irrelevant there, your twice as irrelevant here.

    "Makes you feel ashamed to live in a land where justice is a game." -- Bob Dylan "Hurricane"

  11. Wow, "irrelevant"...ooh, that stings. Guess that was so much easier to type than trying to explain that you're just a criminal, from a criminal family, bashing the cops and courts every chance you get.

    Now if you want real work, take the examples you cited above and divide them into the total number on convictions for all of the years your examples cover. Now look at the resulting percentage. I dare you to find anything else in your life with that kind of accuracy percentage. (Heck, multiply your examples by 10 or even 100 and you're still at over 99.99%)

  12. Besides Killerb where is that other flaming liberal poster gmag. I'll bet he just hates the death penalty because they have all been misunderstood and not as educated as himself.

  13. @bghs - Yes, I believe that one innocent having to die in order to get 99 killers removed from society is acceptable.

    @geezlouuise - Please provide actual backing for your ridiculous claim that 15% of all people in prison are innocent. The actual statistics are far different from your claims.

  14. @bghs - your statement "...there has never been any evidence the the death penalty would actually make it any less likely that you would become a victim." has got to be the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. Wishful thinking at it's worst.

    Numerous studies have shown that someone who has killed before is more likely to kill again than someone who has never killed. Every killer executed is guaranteed to never kill again. End of story.

    Of course if you'd like to let all of those convicted killers stay at your place (because you think they pose no further threat to anyone) then by all means, let's get you set up as a halfway house for repentant killers.