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Prosecutor talks about reality of courts

 

The volume of cases and restrictions on sentencing imposed by the state Legislature are two handicaps on his office, Grant County Prosecuting Attorney Garth Dano told chamber of commerce members at a recent meeting.

Dano started out by asking chamber members if they wanted to pay more taxes, to a negative response. Then he pointed out that his office is working with three fewer lawyers than when he took office a year and a half ago. Budgets are indeed a factor in how long it takes to handle and determine cases, he noted.

Coulee Hardware's Kerry Higgins asked about shoplifters who are caught, arrested, then return immediately from jail and do the same thing again. Higgins explained that these thefts affect the "bottom line" and deal a significant blow to the profitability of local businesses.

Dano responded that 40 years ago it would have been possible to make shoplifters return to the firm they shoplifted from and work for nothing to make restitution. That's not the case in today's world, said Dano, who would personally favor a much harder line.

"I'd have chain gangs," he said. "Prison would not be a fun place."

He also said that his office is known for "plea bargaining." He explained that his office faces several thousand cases a year, many of them misdemeanors, and maybe 800 or more felonies, but prosecutors are only able to try about one case a week.

"Court dockets are immense," Dano said, holding one hand far from the other. He invited chamber members to attend the court system to see for themselves how stacked the dockets are. "You'll probably be shocked," he said.

In an exchange with superintendent of schools, Paul Turner, Dano was critical of today's school systems and the need to teach civics so kids understand how our government works. Turner countered that schools today are obligated to do more than teach; they have all kinds of discipline and other problems that are difficult to deal with, plus obligations imposed on schools by the state Legislature.

Dano said he would return to speak at another chamber meeting, if requested, and be happy to visit with school classes about today's problems and how government operates.

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