By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support local journalism.
District attorney asks Dawson County commissioners for these “desperately needed” budget increases amidst an ongoing case backlog
DA budgets 2022
Northeastern Judicial Circuit district attorney Lee Darragh, left, asks the Board of Commissioners on Oct. 20 to budget for another much-needed legal assistant position in his Dawson County office. - photo by Julia Hansen

During his second recent appearance in front of the Board of Commissioners, Northeastern Judicial Circuit District Attorney Lee Darragh made a heartfelt plea for a “desperately needed” additional legal assistant position for his Dawson County office. 

This story continues below.

The Northeastern Judicial Circuit covers both Dawson and Hall counties. 

“I don't say that lightly. I appreciate fiscal conservatism. I'm a fiscal conservative as well,” Darragh said at the board’s Oct. 20 work session. “But I also recognize the needs of my office and the needs of effective prosecution in Dawson County.” 

The district attorney spoke during the first of three hearings for the county’s proposed FY2023 budgets. The second hearing was hosted during the BOC’s Oct. 20 voting session, and the third hearing will take place during the Nov. 3 voting session, which will immediately follow the prior work session that evening. 

Darragh pointed out that the $46,500 position was not included in the county’s proposed FY 2023 budget, which Chief Financial Officer Vickie Neikirk confirmed in an email to DCN. 

If the board decides to add the additional position, the money for it would come out of the general fund, Neikirk said.

The district attorney described his focus as being on the admin position rather than the Dawson assistant district attorney (ADA) roles currently being advertised.

He and Dawson County’s supervising ADA, Conley Greer, previously requested the admin position during departmental budget hearings held in August by the board. 

An extra assistant would free up the attorneys from creating basic documents, for which legal training isn’t needed, so they could instead prepare for cases and trials. 

Darragh reiterated how cases have increased each year within the county’s probate and superior courts, with the collective caseload “beginning to be exponential in the terms it’s increased,” he said. 

Northeastern Judicial Circuit Court Administrator Jason Stephenson also spoke to the rising caseloads during the August budget hearings. 

“I have to stand up for my employees for effective prosecution in Dawson County. The public expects that from me. They expect that from my staff,” Darragh added. “And I’ve got to have the help to do it.”

Darragh also doubled down on his request to increase ADA Robert Gardner’s supplement. Gardner, who relocated from Hall back to Dawson because he was needed, receives a supplement in addition to his state salary. 

On Oct. 6, the BOC approved a supplement of $11,732 for Gardner, less than the $16,789 Darragh requested with the intent of making his employee’s switch a lateral move. 

The supplement granted takes into account the board’s recently-passed cost-of-living adjustment for all county employees. 

Retention of attorneys has become increasingly important in Dawson and other jurisdictions around the state in the past few years.

At one point, when Gardner and another attorney weren’t at the Dawson office, there were just two assistant district attorneys, Darragh said on Oct. 20. 

That prompted him to coordinate getting Gardner back to Dawson. 

Recently, he’s had to consider whether to hire a third-year law student “eight months from now,” he said. 

“That’s the kind of reality I’m facing now,” Darragh said. 

District 3 Commissioner Tim Satterfield acknowledged that supplement bumps could be a part of a wider longevity pay approach for county employees. 

Currently, the proposed FY2023 budget has $1 million squared away for merit raises. 

“So that could be one of the steps considered in the merit increase?,” BOC Chairman Billy Thurmond said. “I would agree with you on that. [It’s a] quality step that should be part of that process. If somebody’s been around for a long time doing a good job, that's worth something.”