Understaffed and underpaid, State Attorney creates special unit for Orange, Osceola county victims of domestic violence

Facing mounting staff vacancies and uncompetitive salary offerings, the State Attorney for the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court is looking to create a special victim’s unit for domestic violence victims across Orange and Osceola county.

The new, special victims’ unit will handle the prosecution of all sexual crimes and allegations of domestic violence, according to a press release from State Attorney Monique H. Worrell.

Worrell says that consolidating cases into a single unit will lower individual caseloads, allow prosecutors to give more attention to each case, and put a dedicated unit prosecutor in every courtroom. The attorneys working in the new unit will also receive specialized training, including training on trauma-informed practices.

The state attorney’s office says that current salaries are below what attorneys need to cover expenses, including “the substantial law school debt most of them shoulder.” The office contends that prosecutors can obtain private sector jobs that pay tens of thousands of dollars more than what the state can offer and, as a result, many have decided to leave the office. According to the release, Worrell has repeatedly asked the legislature for additional funding to address the office’s staffing crisis.

With caseloads in the domestic violence unit skyrocketing, and staffing remaining stagnant or declining, Worrell says working conditions for attorneys at the office have “become untenable.”

The office believes the organization of the new unit will spread caseloads more evenly, eliminate positions that are purely supervisory, permit the consolidation of key resources designed to serve victims of sexual and domestic violence crimes, and increase efficiency as attorneys will no longer need to bounce between courtrooms or coordinate trial schedules between different judges.

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