Originally created 11/22/05

Proposal will include funds for solicitors

AIKEN - Gov. Mark Sanford has promised to support the proposed hiring of solicitors in every county dedicated strictly to prosecuting criminal domestic violence cases, state Attorney General Henry McMaster said Monday.

A spokesman for the governor confirmed that a $2 million appropriation to hire 46 new deputy solicitors will be included in Mr. Sanford's proposed budget that is set to be released in early January.

Mr. McMaster testified in September that there was a need for the funds and extra manpower before a joint committee of the state House and Senate, his spokesman said.

The attorney general reiterated his thoughts Monday at an Aiken Republican Club meeting, saying that county solicitors didn't have the budget or staff to prosecute cases arising from the 36,000 incidents of criminal domestic violence reported statewide in 2004.

Most cases that reach a magistrate court have only the arresting officer present and no prosecutor, he added.

"We don't ask for much (from the state Legislature)," Mr. McMaster said. "We ask for something when the people need it."

Aiken County Solicitor Barbara Morgan said Monday that she would welcome the help.

"I'm applauding any effort that they might have to assist," she said.

The attorney general already has taken steps to strengthen the prosecution of domestic violence cases. In 2004, he started a program that allowed private attorneys to prosecute criminal domestic violence cases on a pro bono basis.

It attracted 90 volunteers, according to Mr. McMaster, although it has not been expanded beyond Orangeburg, Kershaw and York counties.

He said the solicitors he hopes to hire with increased funding would coordinate their efforts with volunteer attorneys.

That teamwork, along with help from victim advocacy groups, would fill a need without spending a lot of money, Mr. McMaster said.

"There's got to be a volunteer and citizen component in these things," he said.

According to the attorney general's office, more than 900 cases had been prosecuted through the pro bono program by June, with a 76 percent conviction rate.

It's those statistics that led to the governor's support for his proposal.

"It's something that has been successful on a volunteer basis, and is something we believe will lead to timely prosecution of criminal domestic violence offenders," said Joel Sawyer, Mr. Sanford's spokesman.

Staff writer Sandi Martin contributed to this story.

Reach J.C. Lexow at (803) 648-1395, ext. 106, or jc.lexow@augustachronicle.com.


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