Wake County district attorney says her office is understaffed

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) - The Wake County District Attorney's Office handles everything from seatbelt violations to murder cases, but District Attorney Lorrin Freeman says they need some help.

"We have been understaffed in this office for years," Freeman said.

She recently asked to remover herself from a case and for a judge to hire a private attorney.

She says part of the reason was the workload was too much for her understaffed office.

You can read her letter here

She says the lack of staff impacts how they handle cases.

"I think we work very hard to be efficient and to find ways to use the resources that we have efficiently," Freeman said. "We've done a pretty good job of handling the case load we have but there's no question that if you walk down anyone of these halls that my folks carry a higher per capita caseload."

Freeman says the problem is the state isn't funding enough attorneys for the county.

"Certainly there are things I think we could do differently if we had additional staff here and I think you'd see that some of the cases might make it to trial quicker," Freeman said.

Wake County currently has 43 state-funded assistant district attorneys.

There is one additional attorney position that is funded by a grant.

A study from North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts shows based on case load, Wake County needs at least 50.

"Those additional six prosecutors would make a huge difference," Freeman said.

Compare that to Mecklenburg County who has a similar case load.

The study shows they need at least 59 attorneys. They have 63 funded by the state, and 23 more funded by grants.

Freeman says they are prioritizing cases and taking advantage of outside help when they can.

She says they have faced a "good amount" of turnover in the past year and keeping employees long term is also an issue.

"There is a perception, and in some cases some people can go into the private sector and do better financially," Freeman explained.

Her office is also currently down three attorneys - one attorney is on maternity leave, one attorney resigned, and one position is new.

Freemans says it's the first new state-funded position the county has seen in at least 10 years and they are in the process of hiring for it.

CBS North Carolina asked Freeman if she could assure the public that there is still adequate prosecution happening in her office, even with the short staffing.

"I think we are doing the best we can to try and use our limited resources. I think we do a good job prioritizing those," she said.

Until they get more people, she says hiring outside help will be an option when they can.

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