By the end of April, barring a miracle, there will be only one prosecutor in the Plumas County District Attorney’s Office. There should be at least three.
The last man standing will be District Attorney David Hollister. He appeared before the Board of Supervisors on April 5 to forewarn the supervisors and seek their assistance to remedy a situation that could impact the safety of county residents.
The staffing crisis has been building since the one of the two deputy district attorneys resigned a couple of years ago and there has been no replacement. “We have only had two prosecutors,” Hollister said, and in 2019, that meant he and the remaining district attorney made 6,513 appearances in court — 1,198 felonies and 5,315 misdemeanors, (excluding juvenile court and drug court).
Hollister just learned that the remaining deputy district attorney is departing April 29 to work for the state Attorney General’s office. That’s just a little over three weeks away, and the DA has no applications for the position that was already open. “One person can’t do this,” he said. Hollister said he has already met with the courts to discuss adjusting the calendar and using Zoom for some interactions.
DA offices across the state are facing shortages, but Hollister said the situation is even more acute in Plumas County due to low wages, a housing shortage, and the Dixie Fire. Hollister said he hears “Didn’t your county burn up?”
To combat that image his office developed a brochure that highlights the beauty of the area (much of the county did not burn) and has reached out to the California District Attorney Association, the other District Attorney offices and “every law school” in the state. In fact one of the reasons he was in front of the board was to gain permission to sign agreements with law school students to entice them to commit to coming to Plumas County once they passed the bar exam.
He asked the board for approval for “Human Resources to accept applications from and interview third-year law students, recent law school graduates, and law school graduates awaiting the results from the California Bar Exam,” and approval to make an offer of employment to one of the above, conditioned on their passing the bar exam.
But in the meantime “We are going to have to borrow deputy DAs,” Hollister said, which will be costly. Plumas would need to cover housing and transportation costs, as well as reimburse their home counties for the prosecutors’ salaries. “I have never been in this position before,” Hollister said.
Hollister again returned to the issue of salary. He said that one of the individuals he would like to recruit to this area currently has a base salary of $250,000 as a deputy district attorney. Hollister’s base salary is $110,000.
The second issue is short-term housing in a county where housing is already at a premium, particularly following the fire. He also discussed hiring bonuses and paying bar exam costs.
“We are walking into our first COVID free summer with one prosecutor and two courts,” Hollister said. He also noted his involvement in the “investigation and prosecution of a crime involving six counties.” “I finished at midnight last night; and began again at 6 a.m. this morning.”
Sheriff Todd Johns addressed the board and supported Hollister. “This seriously affects my staff as well,” he said. Deputies make the arrests, but it’s up to the DA’s office to press the charges that keep offenders in jail. “This would warrant some type of emergency action with the HR office to say this has to happen now, not three months from now.”
The board voted unanimously to support Hollister’s request and instructed the HR office to work with him.