Riverside County’s recently elected District Attorney Paul Zellerbach on Tuesday made his first appearance before the Board of Supervisors since he took office two months ago. The DA’s office faces a $6 million budget shortfall. Zellerbach pins much of the fiscal trouble on his predecessor, Rod Pacheco.
“What I continually tell the people in my office these days,” says Zellerbach, “is that a new day has dawned in the DA’s office, of integrity, honesty and transparency.”
Zellerbach blames much of the office’s budget trouble on Pacheco’s spending habits. He referred to the former DA’s promotion of 70 deputy district attorneys, and his approval of a million dollar employee vacation time buyback program.
“The combined cost of past decisions made by my predecessor amounts to almost $5-million,” Zellerbach says. “This is very close to what we anticipate will be our deficit by the end of this fiscal year.”
Zellerbach’s working on a new budget plan, he says, that will maintain his office’s effectiveness while reducing spending and courtroom gridlock. He’s already eliminated about a dozen executive positions.
“This was a recommendation that the Riverside County grand jury made to the board,” he says. “That’s gonna save us more than $900,000.”
Zellerbach drew praise from county supervisors, many of whom, like John Tavaglione, had clashed with Pacheco.
“It was very difficult for many of us to see a person who we knew as very talented prosecutor trying to hoodwink the board of supervisors,” says Tavaglione. “And I learned my lesson that if we face another like your predecessor my intent is to hit him in the budget.”
Zellerbach also intends to file fewer death penalty cases, and to give prosecutors more leeway in obtaining plea agreements to avoid expensive trials. About 40 death penalty cases in the county are under review.