Pima County Attorney Barbara LaWall appears to have a problem with numbers and controversy is building around claims made about her office’s conviction rate. While the LaWall touts a 91.9 percent conviction rate; the actual figure is 45.5 percent according to her Democrat Primary challenger Joel Feinman.
Not only does LaWall’s challenger have concerns about her number problems, questions have arisen as to just how she uses the vast numbers of RICO dollars that pass through her office.
This week, Feinman advised constituents that a thorough review was conducted of every felony case the Pima County Attorney Office took under LaWall’s leadership in fiscal year 2014 – 2015. That review of Pima County Superior Court data shows that the Pima County Attorney took a mere 220 cases to jury trial on new felony charges. Of those 220 cases:
• 100 cases, or 45.5% resulted in a verdict of guilty on all charges.
• 58 cases, or 24.4% resulted in a verdict of not guilty on all charges.
Clearly, the numbers run contrary to the claim of 91.9 percent she advertises on billboards as part of her 2016 re-election bid, and the 85 percent conviction rate she testified to in front of the Pima County Board of Supervisors on April 19, 2016.
In a message to constituents, Feinman called the conviction rate “shockingly low.” Feinman stated, “The last thing we need is to send more people to prison, and a 45.5% true conviction rate shows that the County Attorney is taking cases to trial that should never have gone to trial in the first place.”
Feinman claims that the low conviction rate “demonstrates a deep-set dysfunction in the leadership of the Pima County Attorney’s office. We can either shrug off that dysfunction and continue to pay for it with wasted tax dollars and ruined lives, or we can make a change.”
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Residents say that another thing that has to change is the use of RICO funds. Currently it appears based on a review of expenses available through OpenBooks.az.gov; LaWall uses RICO funds to supplement office expenses.
RICO expert Aaron Ludwig, Managing Director of The Counterracketeering Group, says that there is an inherent conflict of interest in using RICO funds for employee related expenses (ERE). Ludwig advises that RICO money shared from the federal government can only be used for employee related expenses (ERE) in very limited situations. “As such, I’ve always advised that fed-shared RICO money may not be used for ERE. Furthermore, since fed-shared RICO can’t be used for ERE, I’ve always advised that state RICO may not be used for ERE.”
Ludwig’s position, which is embraced by civil libertarians, runs contrary to the current Arizona Attorney General’s view. The State claims that, because statutes allow RICO funds to be used to investigate and prosecute racketeering crimes, it’s okay to spend them on police and prosecutor ERE.
The conflict of interest exists because ERE includes salary and benefits and thus, it is in a police officer’s and/or prosecutor’s personal, economic interest to confiscate property.
The fact that LaWall’s conviction rate is woefully low and the use of confiscated funds is remarkably high raises questions as to her priorities. The alleged abuse of RICO funds by Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu has made headlines, while LaWall’s abuses have largely gone unnoticed and unchallenged.