Four entities appeared before the Bryan County LVAP Committee on August 7 to present their qualifications, service strategy, and future plans as part of a new process to appropriate Local Victim Assistance Program (LVAP) funds collected on a 5% fee from traffic citation fines and criminal convictions. The committee, appointed by the Board of Commissioners, was comprised of Bryan County Sheriff Clyde Smith, County Finance Director John Rauback, Juvenile Court Judge Christy Balbo, Bryan County Connection Director Wendy Sims, Richmond Hill Finance Director Bob Whitmarsh, Pembroke Police Chief Bill Collins, and resident Tracy Walden-Stafford.
The LVAP funds, under the law, are supposed to be paid on a monthly basis to the victim assistance program in the county where the crime was committed so long as the provider is approved by the Georgia Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (GCJCC). In the event that a county does not have a victim assistance program that is certified by the GCJCC, the law says the LVAP funds should be directed to the county district attorney’s office to offset the costs by the district attorney’s office in offering victim assistance. When the law was enacted, it was done so to incentivize nonprofit groups that provide tangible services to victims.
For the last several years, 100% of the LVAP funds from Bryan County have gone to the Atlantic Judicial Circuit’s District Attorney’s Office, which serves Bryan Evans, Liberty, Long, McIntosh, Tattnall counties. It was not until a request for funds by a nonprofit organization in Bryan County was made in the summer of 2018 that the county considered sharing the funding and it was only in Spring of 2019 that efforts were made to open the funding to all CJCC organizations in the circuit.
Though only one of the organizations meets the in-county standards as required by law, the Bryan County Commissioners appointed the committee to hear from approved providers and make recommendations to the commissioners, who are required by law to appropriate the funds on a monthly basis.
The Atlantic Judicial Circuit Presentation
Four people appeared for the District Attorney’s Office presentation on Wednesday, including Samantha Ashdown, Victim Witness Advocate Nikki Lynn, Financial Officer Kelly Jackson, and District Attorney Tom Durden, to make their case for keeping 100% of the funding from Bryan County. Like the other presenters, the DA’s office was questioned by committee members with regard to their current funding and services. A number of the statements the DA’s office made to the committee, however, did not match up with paperwork they self-reported to the state.
Samantha Ashdown told the committee that the DA’s office keeps victims informed about the court process, picks victims up for court, gives victims contact numbers to call, refers victims to counseling, helps victims file for restitution, schedules appointments with victims and the attorney, and is “the BFF of the victim.” After three minutes of presentation, Ashdown said she ‘drew a blank’ on the remainder of the services they provided, but went on to say they also send subpoenas and help file for restitution. The funding goes towards all three salaries and then to expenses to pay for the aforementioned services.
Ashdown, in noting that the District Attorney’s Office is referring victims out for counseling services, essentially acknowledged that the office isn’t providing the tangible services the funding was created to provide.
Funding from Other Counties
- Nikki Lynn told the Committee that the DA’s office receives money from five of the six counties in the judicial circuit.
- It was not until it was state from the audience by AllOnGeorgia that it was actually all six counties that Lynn corrected herself and agreed.
- When asked how much money was received from LVAP funds in total, Finance Officer Kelly Jackson could not answer the question. While it appeared that the committee was looking for an estimate, Nikki Lynn told the committee that “it depends” because fines change, some people who are convicted do not pay their fines, and probation is a problem in the state.
- The representatives never answered with a dollar amount or an estimate. The points about fines not being paid to the counties is irrelevant to the total awarded to the district attorney’s office because the county clerks only distribute and keep records based on what is collected, not what is assessed. The victim’s office of the district attorney’s office would have no knowledge of fines ‘assessed.’
- Kelly Jackson told the Committee twice that they do not receive 100% of the LVAP funds from Evans County.
- The County Clerk in Evans County confirmed to AllOnGeorgia last month that the district attorney’s office receives 100% of the LVAP funds and it was reported on AllOnGeorgia on July 8th with the documentation.
- When asked about Tattnall’s percentages, Jackson stated that she was ‘not sure’ because the counties do not tell them what percentage they are allocating, though Jackson knew that Liberty County awards the DA’s office 25% and, while wrong, stated 100% of Evans money did not go to the DA’s office.
Which county sends the most money?
Finance Officer Kelly Jackson was initially unsure as to which county directed the most LVAP funds, but then said that Bryan County directed the most funds and that Long County was “not far behind.” But reports from the state indicating how much money the District Attorney’s Office told the state it collected show that Bryan County sent over $250,000 in the last four fiscal years while Long County has sent only $100,000 in the last five fiscal years, making for a likely $200,000 difference over five fiscal years.
Marsy’s Law – which engrained the Crime Victim’s Bill of Rights into the state constitution after voters approved the measure in November 2018 – was cited as justification for needed funds because ‘new requirements’ were implemented at the state level.
Specifically, Nikki Lynn said in the presentation that certain notifications must occur under Marsy’s Law, which is true, but it is also true that there was no mention of using LVAP funds to implement Marsy’s Law when it was passed by the legislature or the voters. Additionally, Marsy’s Law was already the standard operating procedure for notification of victims under Georgia law. [See OCGA 17-17-1, which appears on the website of most DA’s in the state and has been law for decades] The passage on the ballot merely meant that it became part of the state Constitution. The Atlantic Judicial Circuit should have already been funding the provisions of Marsy’s Law with their general appropriations, just like every other judicial circuit in the state.
One committee member asked why the Victim Assistance Program money is paying to send out court notifications, which are required by law, to which Nikki Lynn responded, “because they’re a victim.” Committee member Tracy Walden-Stafford followed up by telling the DA’s office that she thought that should be paid for by the DA’s operating expenses. The same question was asked about subpoenas, to which Nikki Lynn said the DA’s office tells them [Ashdown, Jackson, and Lynn] who needs a subpoena, and they are the ones who send out the notices.
How many victims do you serve?
None of the three people paid by the LVAP funds are certified counselors, but District Attorney Tom Durden confirmed, when asked, that the DA’s office served “in the first six months of 2019, 823 victims just in Bryan County.” Ashdown said that that was reported to the state CJCC for their statistical reporting and that all 823 victims received notification of court dates and had questions answered, which was done because the LVAP funds pay their salaries.
After several minutes, Committee Member Tracy Walden-Stafford redirected the conversation and corrected County Finance Director John Rauback who had misread the paperwork. It was 823 victims over 10 years. At no point before the correction by Walden-Stafford did anyone from the District Attorney’s Office correct the comments for the official record, which was being recorded in official minutes by the county clerk. Rauback stated he “saw the ‘9’ and just assumed’ the stats were for the current year.
The presentation last just over 25 minutes and you can watch it in its entirety below.
The Committee is expected to make a recommendation to Bryan County Commissioners in September or October and the funding is set to begin in January 2020.
Bryan County LVAP fund Committee Wednesday, August 7, 2019 @ 1:30 PM Presentation from the Atlantic Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office.
Posted by All On Georgia.com on Thursday, August 8, 2019