Striking a Deal

Two South Dakota states attorneys discovered the fine line between costly and efficient when they struck a deal across county lines.

by / May 6, 2001
When Beadle County States Attorney Michael Moore started looking for ways to make his office more efficient, he honed in on the paper trail. "With any prosecutors office, you do a lot of paper processing -- complaint information, indictments, judgements and convictions of sentences, subpoenas, etc." he said.

Moores office had been keeping information for every case in file folders. Tired of shuffling documents, he started looking for software that could maintain all the data from his cases. Moore called several companies that offered such software, but found most of it was designed for larger offices in bigger jurisdictions. But with a full-time staff of only four people and one or two summer interns, the Beadle County prosecutors office didnt need more than five user licenses.

A short time later, Moore ran into Lincoln County States Attorney Scott Abdallah, who had been struggling with the same problem. "We stored everything as a paper file, and any time someone called about a case, we had to track down the file -- put them on hold, ask a secretary to find the file -- in order to speak intelligently about the case," Abdallah said.

Moore estimates his office takes about 15 to 20 phone requests for information per day. "In my opinion, thats a lot of wasted time on hold," said Moore. "Sometimes its an attorney or a judge calling to know the status of something, the police department or the defendant themselves."

Moore said his office was also running out of places to store files.

Since neither of the small offices could afford to purchase software alone, Moore and Abdallah decided to work together to find a technical solution that could meet their counties similar needs, increase efficiency and allow them to save taxpayer dollars.

Unexpected Benefits

Abdallah and Moore began pricing systems in July 1999. Soon after, they settled on Prosecutor II from Microfirm Software Corp. "The reason we [liked Prosecutor II] is that its design seems to be for smaller offices, not the L.A.s or New Yorks," said Moore.

At that time, Prosecutor II was quoted at $1,900 for 10 licensing agreements. The counties needed five licenses each, so it was a viable solution.

Not only was the price of the software right, but it created some unexpected savings as well. Moores office used to employ two full-time secretaries and one part-time secretary. But with the new system, Moore believes his office can operate without the part-time position.

"We were paying the part-time person ... about $15,000 per year with benefits," said Moore. "Thats about 7 [percent] to 8 percent of my total office budget. Thats pretty significant."

Beadle Countys total budget is around $200,000 per year. Moore said any savings would be funneled back into the countys general fund.

Abdallah hopes to see similar savings, though his office situation is a bit different. While Beadle Countys population has declined, Lincoln Countys has increased, making it one of the fastest growing counties in the state, with just under 25,000 people. "Our countys going through tremendous change and challenges," said Abdallah. "Hopefully with this software well be able to meet the challenges that come with that growth and avoid having to hire more people."

Moore and Abdallah, who have now used their new systems for a few months, say their transitions have been smooth, allowing them to gain some of the efficiencies more commonly reserved for larger jurisdictions.

"Normally an office our size wouldnt have the means and resources to buy this technology," said Abdallah. "Because we were able to work together, we were able to do something that normally would have been cost prohibitive."
Kerry Eleveld Special to Government Technology