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January 27, 2013

DA, judges at odds over offender referrals

NORMAN — District attorneys across the state used to rely on fees from working bogus check cases to keep their office budgets in the black.

But those days are gone.

“Hardly anybody writes hot checks anymore; they use credit cards,” said Cleveland County District Attorney Greg Mashburn.  Businesses also contract with a private service that verifies immediately whether people have money in their bank accounts.

Now, district attorneys fear there is another threat on the horizon that could whittle away at their sources of revenue.  They fear judges may stop sending to them as many jail diversion cases as they used to. Those cases command a $40 fee paid monthly by each defendant for supervision services.

Mashburn says that he must have that supervision fee simply to run his office.  He fears loss of this fee could affect his ability to prosecute the big cases “like murderers, rapists and child molesters.”

The reality of the situation is that fees collected for misdemeanors and some lesser felonies have to be used elsewhere in his budget. 

In fiscal 2012, the supervision fee provided more than $16 million in revenue that  Oklahoma’s 27 district attorneys would have to make up, said Mashburn, current president of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Association.

In Cleveland County, some cases are being sent to a private supervision service called Oklahoma Court Services (OCS) L.L.C.

Mashburn lost an appeal in the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Oct. 24, 2012, regarding supervision of some of these cases. In a test case, he wanted the appeals court to force Cleveland County Special Judge Steve Stice to assign a case of aggravated driving under the influence to the district attorney’s office.

Stice told the appeals court that the DA’s supervision was inadequate, and the judge said he needed to abide by a new state law stipulating what services must be provided an offender charged with aggravated driving while under the influence.

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