Back in June, the Week Online reported on threats by disgruntled state prosecutors on the Texas border to quit prosecuting drug cases developed by federal agents because the cases drained the resources of poor border counties (http://www.drcnet.org/wol/140.html#texasglimmers). Later in the summer, federal officials responded with $12 million Southwest Border Local Assistance Initiative, which would reimburse the counties for the costs they accrued prosecuting the drug cases. That move ended talk of a border revolt among the prosecutors.
But the funds have yet to reach the prosecutors. Instead, they have been tied up in a dispute among prosecutors, lawmakers, and federal officials over whether they can be used to defer jail costs, which the DAs say account for the majority of their expenses.
Now, with the $12 million yet to be seen, the prosecutors are again vowing to quit prosecuting federal drug cases effective October 1st and federal prosecutors are preparing for an avalanche of small-time (less than 100 pounds of marijuana) drug cases, the San Antonio Express News has reported.
For El Paso DA Jaime Esparza "The bottom line is the bottom line. It's too expensive to subsidize the federal government by doing what is clearly theirs to do."
Esparza told the Express News the 60 prosecutors in his office try about 500 federal drug cases each year, at a cost to local taxpayers of $8 million.
Hidalgo County DA Rene Guerra told the paper that his office prosecuted 200 federal cases a year and complained that the booming federal law enforcement presence on the border creates too much work for his office. "This is interfering with the efficient prosecution of state cases," he said.
All told, six of eight border DAs in Texas are refusing to prosecute after October 1st. Webb and Zapata County DA Joe Rubio, however, is not. He started refusing federal cases in 1997, but reached an independent agreement with the federal government. Webb County now receives $1 million annually to pay for jailing small-time drug violators.
"Instead of having to spend annually on incarceration and prosecution, we're making a million dollars," Rubio gloated. "There's no federal law saying we have to take these cases."
Hard-pressed federal prosecutors are talking tough, but adjusting their strategies. A spokesman for Bill Blagg, US Attorney for the Western District of Texas told the El Paso Times, "No one is going to get a free walk; we'll do what we have to do."
The same day, Blagg announced that his prosecutors will charge small drug offenses as misdemeanors.