Topeka DA Will Prosecute Domestic Violence After All

PHOTO: A group gathers outside the Shawnee County Court House, where city council leaders repealed a local law against domestic violence, in Topeka, Kan., Oct. 11, 2011.
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Domestic violence crimes will once again be prosecuted in Topeka, Kan., after the district attorney reversed his earlier stance and said today he would once again begin prosecutions.

District attorney Chad Taylor released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying that despite budget cuts to his department, his office would make do with less in order to continue prosecuting the crimes.

Shawnee County and the county seat, Topeka, had become mired in national controversy for a budget fight over which arm of government should pay for prosecuting the crimes.

Topeka, which has a municipal court that has traditionally handled all misdemeanors except for domestic violence, said it would not be able to absorb the costs of providing the support staff required for victims, criminals and families of domestic violence.

The city council voted Tuesday to de-criminalize domestic violence in order to put the burden on the county to fund the prosecutions.

"The city isn't suggesting that we don't prosecute misdemeanor crimes when there is spousal or child abuse, but we need to have an understanding with the DA and the county that it's their operation," said Topeka Mayor Bill Bunten.

The vote came after Taylor announced last month that he would stop prosecuting misdemeanor domestic violence incidents because of a 10 percent cut to his budget. By refusing to prosecute the crimes, Taylor hoped to force the city of Topeka to prosecute them instead. Tuesday's vote proved otherwise.

The DA's office has prosecuted the crimes for more than 10 years, according to Bunten, and Topeka shouldn't be forced to absorb those costs.

The DA would need to continue prosecuting misdemeanor domestic violence offenses for the five towns in the county that do not have municipal courts, and so would need to employ the support staff either way. Additionally, Bunten noted, any convictions could be appealed to the county level, which would make the municipal court redundant.

"We opted out of the state statute last night which says municipalities should prosecute these crimes," said Bunten. "That was done so that it couldn't be thrown into our laps."

Taylor, whose office will operate with $350,000 less in 2012 than it did in 2011, said he relented after learning of Topeka's decision.

"I am deeply saddened by the City of Topeka's unfortunate decision to place resources and political grandstanding before its constituents' safety," Taylor wrote in his statement today. "Public safety is the core responsibility of government and a responsibility I am deeply committed to upholding. Therefore, effective immediately my office will commence the review and filing of misdemeanors decriminalized by the City of Topeka."

The budget fight began when the Shawnee County Commission, made up of three elected officials, cut all county departments' budgets by 10 percent this year, a result of tough economic times, according to Mary M. Thomas, who was appointed to the panel just two weeks ago.

"Everyone is facing this problem across the country, and [all county departments] were first informed in early summer that, because of the loss of income due to the devaluation of real estate, everyone would have to share equally in the pain," she said.

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