SALISBURY – A new victim/witness coordinator is expected to benefit the Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Last week, the Wicomico County Council voted to authorize the hiring of a victim/witness coordinator within the Wicomico County State’s Attorney’s Office and to approve the use of contingency to fund the position.
Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Gilbert, chief of the office’s Prosecution Integrity Unit, said the victim/witness coordinator would assist prosecutors as they contend with a backlog of pending cases.
“Victim/witness coordinators are in essence the most effective force multipliers our office has,” he said. “They shoulder the administrative burden of coordinating schedules, reminding witnesses of upcoming hearings and court dates, and that’s to say nothing about their crucial work in keeping victims involved and informed in the prosecution of their case, or cases that involve them.”
In early September, State’s Attorney Jamie Dykes came before the county council seeking a host of budget amendments within her office, including a funding request to hire a new victim/witness coordinator.
“It is a cost-effective way to increase the number of cases prosecutors can handle if they don’t have to be that front-line contact with witnesses,” she said at the time.
Back on the agenda last week, however, Councilman Ernie Davis made a motion to table the resolution. He questioned why the hiring of a new position was being voted on as a resolution, and not a legislative bill.
“They put this in here, but we’ve never discussed this with the state’s attorney as far as what this victim/witness coordinator is going to do,” he said. “I think we need to table it until we get more information on this because this is the first time something like this has come up in a resolution.”
Councilman John Cannon, however, said the council was not voting to hire a victim/witness coordinator, but voting to give the state’s attorney the authority to hire. He added the matter could be presented as either a resolution or a legislative bill.
“It was decided through legal that it could be a resolution,” he said.
With no further discussion, a motion to table the resolution failed.
In his presentation last week, Gilbert told council members the circuit court division currently employed one victim/witness coordinator who’s assigned to 12 prosecutors.
“That’s over 800 cases that this single victim/witness coordinator is responsible for,” he said. “An additional victim/witness coordinator would greatly help our prosecutors focus on what they’re best at and help us to better keep crime victims informed and involved at a time when it’s desperately needed.”
Gilbert noted that prosecutors’ caseloads have doubled since 2019.
“Right now our prosecutors are dealing with caseloads that are in some instances twice as high as they were in 2019,” he said. “And every minute they spend coordinating schedules, signing subpoenas, is a minute they are not spending preparing for trial … I want to stress how central victim/witness coordinators are to our mission.”
Officials said not only were they seeking approval for the hiring of the position, but $28,930 in contingency funds to pay the employee for the remainder of the fiscal year. The full salary is set at $34,650.
With no further discussion, the council voted 6-1, with Davis opposed, to authorize the hiring of a victim/witness coordinate, and to use contingency to fund the position.
The county council last week also voted to allow a one-time $1,500 signing bonus for three lateral hires at the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office.