RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The North Carolina Attorney General’s office laid off about two-dozen attorneys Wednesday due to reductions in state funding.
Attorney General Josh Stein is blaming Republican legislators for the layoffs, which he describes as public safety risks.
“The work that we do is protecting taxpayers, it’s about keeping prisoners behind bars, and it’s about prosecuting criminals of serious crime. With these cuts, we will no longer be able to do that work as effectively as we have done in the past,” Stein said.
The Department of Justice here in North Carolina had its state funding cut by $10 million for the new fiscal year. Requests submitted to other agencies for assistance will make up for about $3.5 million, and Wednesday’s layoffs of 45 employees will reduce expenses by $3.5 million. Stein said more than half of the layoffs are attorneys, reducing the staff of 255 attorneys by 10 percent, while the remainder of the eliminated jobs are support staff.
That leaves an additional $3 million for Stein’s office to address. He is calling on lawmakers to reconsider and restore that portion of the funding.
“At the Department of Justice, 95% of our expenses are people. We’re not a department that runs a lot of programs, that has a lot of things that can be cut other than human beings,” Stein said.
“I simply cannot make any more cuts to the Department of Justice without undue risk to public safety. We’ve cut the attorney general’s office into the bone and we cannot go deeper.”
Stein received the backing Thursday of leaders of the North Carolina Sheriff’s Association, North Carolina Association of Chiefs of Police, and North Carolina Conference of District Attorneys. County prosecutors including Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman said they will have to take on additional burden in handling many civil appeals which the Attorney General’s office previously handled.
Republican House Speaker Tim Moore said the civil work can be moved to other agencies.
“The thing the attorney general’s office must do at all times is to handle the criminal matters, whether it’s criminal appeals or assisting the district attorneys. We will be looking at legislation, if necessary later on, to further refine the Attorney General’s duties in relation to that,” Moore said Thursday.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said there are currently no plans to make any modifications to the amount of money appropriated for the Attorney General’s office.
“Our belief is that the amount of money that was allocated in the budget is adequate for him to do the job that the he was elected and has a responsibility to do,” Berger said.
“We think that he has adequate funding to address those things that the constitution and the law requires him to do.”
Stein said the layoffs include lawyers who combat criminal appeals of convicted child sex offenders, pursue payments from parents who owe child support, and defend the state from claims of negligence. Another is an attorney with 30 years of experience who specialized in protecting drinking water quality.
“Those lawyers, and all of their experience protecting the people from crime and protecting the taxpayer, are gone,” Stein said.