District 20 DA: We need help
ARDMORE, Okla. (KTEN) — Help wanted. Not something you often hear from a district attorney's office, but that's the case for district 20 as more attorneys are needed to accompany a rise in case work.
District 20 district attorney Melissa Handke says her office has had a rise in case work because of a change in prosecutorial jurisdiction as a result of the McGirt ruling.
The district 20 office was at its lowest number of cases in 2020, but the case load has been gradually increasing ever since.
"Because we now have concurrent jurisdiction when it comes to Indian victims, those cases come to us usually first,” Handke said. “We're able to prosecute those cases now whereas before we had to decline them."
"Getting back those cases where the victims were Native American means that those cases we're getting back are cases with victims,” first assistant DA Jacobi Whatley said. “That makes the prosecution of that case take more time."
When the Oklahoma legislature divides taxpayer dollars among state agencies, a portion is given to the District Attorney's Council, which then provides the money to all 27 judicial districts.
According to Jacobi Whatley, a lack of funding to the DAC by the legislature has made it difficult to fill open positions.
"The legislature has given more money to other state agencies who are able to pay attorneys a higher salary than what we're able to,” Whatley explained. “Not only are we competing with tribes now for prosecution jobs that five years ago didn't exist, we're also having to compete with other state agencies like the [Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation] and the [Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics]."
The district 20 office hopes to hire one to two more attorneys.