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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ind. Courts - Update on: St. Joseph County felony public defenders overwhelmed

Earlier this month the South Bend Tribune ran a two-part series by Pablo Ros on St. Joseph County's public defender program -- the stories were published June 3 and June 4.

On Wednesday James Wensits of the Tribune reported:

An "evolutionary" new public defender system aimed at reducing caseloads and increasing accountability was approved Tuesday by the St. Joseph County Council. * * *

Attorney Andre Gammage, a member of the Public Defender Board that will provide oversight for the new system and himself a former public defender and former deputy prosecutor, lauded the new system as "a step forward" that will add accountability for public defenders.

Gammage said that in the past, defenders were sometimes overwhelmed by caseloads given them by judges because no limit existed, even though the job of a public defender is part-time.

The ordinances approved by the council will allow the eventual hiring of 10 new public defenders, with the intent to reduce the caseloads to the state standard of about 60 active felony cases a year.

According to Circuit Court Judge Michael Gotsch, public defenders here have been carrying nearly twice that many cases. * * *

Instead of paying all public defenders the same, regardless of experience, the new program will allow a tiered pay system that will reward senior public defenders and create an entry level pay category for new hires.

Passage of the ordinances puts the county in line to be reimbursed for up to 40 percent of the public defender expenses from a state public defender fund.

That fund is fueled by a combination of court fees and state funds. Gotsch said the county had been donating court fees to the fund in the past but hadn't applied for reimbursements because there wasn't sufficient money available to meet demands.

The judge said the money is available now because the General Assembly appropriated $14.5 million for fiscal year 2007 and $15.2 million for fiscal year 2008.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 14, 2007 10:28 AM
Posted to Indiana Courts