Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen speaks outside at a podium
District Attorney Jeff Rosen's office has seen an increase in domestic violence cases over the last five years. Photo courtesy of Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office.

Santa Clara County is experiencing a surge of domestic violence cases, spreading county prosecutors thin and holding up court hearings at a time when a looming budget deficit will cut District Attorney resources.

The DA’s office has pulled prosecutors from other teams to handle a 142% increase in family violence cases over the last five years, from 76 cases per prosecutor in 2019 to 184 per prosecutor in 2023. The challenges are colliding with a post-pandemic drop in courtroom capacity and a rise in survivors seeking help after being pent-up in households during lockdown. The consequence is a ballooning number of domestic violence survivors whose fates are jammed in a backlog of cases.

“If the district attorney’s office is saying they are having trouble taking cases, what does that mean for protection orders that survivors are seeking? What if the order expires before you have a court date?” Colsaria Henderson, executive director for Next Door Solutions to Domestic Violence in San Jose, told San José Spotlight. “We would be on the precipice of something quite catastrophic for this county.”

This comes as District Attorney Jeff Rosen will have to reduce his office’s resources — further exacerbating workload issues — to meet a looming $250 million county budget shortfall.

In his Feb. 2 budget proposal, Rosen suggested $6 million in cuts to his office, including the elimination of vacant job posts and expenses for services such as expert witnesses. The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors will have the final say on whether to go along with this proposal – or cut even deeper.

“Further reductions, as you requested from us as part of our budget reduction targets, would cause significant damage to public safety and to the pursuit of justice,” Rosen wrote. “In a time when revenues continue to rise, albeit more slowly than costs, such a result would be a disservice to the residents of our County.”

Other surging case types such as homicides and sexual assault are also fueling the DA’s staffing issue, as are increasing workloads necessary to prepare a criminal case for court, according to Assistant District Attorney James Gibbons-Shapiro.

“Most notably: The need to review, provide to the defense and prepare to present hours of body worn camera footage from every officer who was involved in the investigation of a case,” Gibbons-Shapiro told San José Spotlight. “So each additional case also means much more preparation than the same case would have taken in past years.”

Next Door Solutions has for decades offered walk-in services for survivors of domestic violence out of its office in San Jose. Those services include helping people find housing and long-term support for people where partner violence is escalating. The beginning of the pandemic caused a drop in walk-ins. But as the health orders lifted, Henderson said people started coming back in with accounts of  violence, such as strangulation.

A key driver of the problem, Henderson said, is economic distress that’s persisted after COVID.

“People are out of work or that work declined, particularly if you were in the service industry,” Henderson said. “It’s a lot harder for folks to make the decision to just walk away from a harmful relationship. Particularly if you have children and other mouths to feed. Sometimes the thought of becoming homeless means you’ll take your chances unless it becomes more lethal.”

Like the DA’s office, Henderson’s organization is grappling with shrinking resources. Before 2020, Next Door Solutions was looking at expanding in-person survivor support to cities beyond San Jose. That had to be rolled back after steep decreases in federal grant funding under the Victims of Crime Act.

“There are many cities in the county that do not have in-person domestic violence services. People can get to us in San Jose, but there are no in-person services in many parts of the county,” Henderson told San José Spotlight. “We really had been targeting Milpitas, Mountain View, Santa Clara and Sunnyvale first. Now we’re in a situation where we have to figure out how to roll back what we already had.”

Contact Brandon Pho at [email protected] or @brandonphooo on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Editor’s note: The number of family violence cases has been clarified to reflect it’s per prosecutor.

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