http://www.charlotte.com/mld/charlotte/13624661.htm <Highlighting is the poster's comments> N.C. leaders seek millions for courtsCity, county officials say funds could help clear case backlogs MELISSA [email protected] Leaders from North Carolina's largest cities and counties said Friday they will work together to persuade lawmakers to spend millions more on the state's courts. Across the state, jails are packed. Prosecutors are swamped. Court staffers spend hours doing work by hand that a computer could do in minutes. And frustrated police officers end up arresting the same people again and again. "This is a life and death matter," Mayor Pat McCrory told more than 50 mayors, county commissioners, police chiefs and prosecutors who met in Charlotte. "We are arresting the same people over and over again for committing the same very serious crimes," he said. "This is unacceptable. If there is no deterrent (to crime) we are in deep trouble." McCrory and other leaders said it's not clear what it will cost to fix the system. But automating just one more aspect of prosecutors' work would cost $3.5 million, according to an N.C. district attorneys' group that participated. "We need to be funding the court system as if this is 2006, not 1975," Fayetteville Police Chief Tom McCarthy said. Even before Friday's conference, Mecklenburg's elected leaders had pledged to make court funding a top priority this year. County commissioners plan to talk about it during a retreat this month. Police in Mecklenburg made 38,980 arrests in the year ended June 30 but just 1,045 cases went to trial, according to data city officials released Friday. Thousands of others were dismissed or settled with plea agreements. If every case in Mecklenburg District Court had gone to trial in that 12-month period, each would have gotten just 2.3 minutes of court time, the city statistics showed. Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have said they are frustrated by repeat offenders: • Derrick Lamar Sturdivant, for instance, has been arrested 40 times dating to 1981. While on probation in June, he was arrested for breaking and entering. Police said they believe he is responsible for about 200 commercial burglaries. He is in jail awaiting sentencing. • And Michael Welburn has been arrested 25 times in Mecklenburg County since 1991. He was charged with armed robbery of a gas station in 1999, convicted of a lesser offense and released in less than three months. Then he was charged with bank robbery -- and released after serving four years. Next, he was charged with five hotel robberies, and convicted and released in October. Police said they believe he committed 21 armed robberies in the two months following his release. He is in jail awaiting trial. "I can't blame all that on staffing issues and be completely honest," Deputy Assistant District Attorney Bart Menser told the Observer. Lack of evidence, prosecutorial decisions, and sometimes mistakes by prosecutors play into what happens, he said. Mecklenburg District Attorney Peter Gilchrist has said his office is understaffed but has not said how many more prosecutors he needs.<Poster's note--in a previous article Gilchrist said he would need $15 million and he would increae the DA's office by 50%.> For years, city and county officials across the state have individually lobbied the legislature for court funding. Now they're aiming for a united front. Together, they expect to have more political influence. The group that sponsored Friday's conference, the N.C. Metropolitan Coalition, expects to start by working with the Administrative Office of the Courts to lobby lawmakers when they return to the statehouse in May. Since 1995, pending caseloads have increased 67 percent across the state, according to the N.C. Conference of District Attorneys. In the same period, the median time it takes a case to make its way through the system increased by nearly a month. N.C. Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake Jr., a Republican who oversees the state courts, has argued for years that Democratic Gov. Mike Easley and lawmakers have given too little funding to the courts. The governor's office has said the court budget was protected from cuts when state funding was tight a few years ago and that overall court funding has increased during the past five years. Lake retires this month, and Justice Sarah Parker, a Charlotte Democrat, could be appointed to his post before budget negotiations begin in May. House Speaker Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, acknowledges that courts have been underfunded and told the Observer he's "fully on board" with efforts to get them more money. "We had to scramble at the end of the summer to find money to keep our drug court going. That's not good," said Black, who added $300,000 for Mecklenburg's court at the end of last year's legislative session. He said his House budget writers need to come up with a consistent funding source for the courts. "It seems we're going to have a little more money" this year, said Black. He said a push for gas tax cuts by Republicans and a few Democrats could reduce the extra funding.