Public Defenders proposed budget balloons to more than $1 million

LAWRENCE CO. The proposed budget for the public defenders budget has ballooned to more than $1 million according to the budget request received by Lawrence County Council members Thursday night.

During the budget hearing on Tuesday, Chief Public Defender Bruce Andis was asked whether the contract services for additional public defenders with an original budget request of $40,000 were realistic by Lawrence County Council member Jeff Lytton.

“No sir, I do not believe this is a realistic number and has not been over the last three budget cycles,” Andis replied.

Bruce Andis Lawrence County Chief Public Defender

The Lawrence County Council asked Andis to bring a more realistic number so they know what they are working with.

On Thursday, the Lawrence County Council was given revised numbers by Andis which increased the amount from $40,000 to $150,000 for contracted public defenders.

The need for contracted public defenders occurs when there are conflict of interests involved in court cases, CHINS (Child in Need of Services) cases when there are several attorneys that are needed to represent various parting in the case. Some CHINS cases can have up to six attorneys representing parents and children.

The budget for the public defender’s office in 2021 was at $747,401 and the proposed budget in 2022 is at $1,017,989.

Total cost for contracted attorney’s by the year:

  • 2019 – $100,675.57
  • 2020 – $160,786.78
  • 2021 current total – $75,452.71

The public defender’s office now has 7 attorneys and two part-time attorneys, but are faced with staffing issues in 2020.

In June of 2020, there became excessive caseloads. The public defender office had to decline appointments for public defenders. The public defender’s office had been operating short one attorney since January 1, 2020. On June 8, 2020, two other attorneys terminated their employment with the agency and a third terminated their employment with the agency on June 19, 2020. One of those attorneys was hired by a neighboring county, at a salary approximately 62 percent greater than she was paid in Lawrence County.

“I believe the county’s salary ordinance was a contributing factor for another of the attorneys who left, an attorney who by the way, was forced to seek public assistance to help support her family while employed by the county,” added Andis.

In May of 2020, the Lawrence County Defender received approval for an additional $20,000 for that fund, on top of the annual budget amount of $40,000. That emergency appropriation only covered the current outstanding claims.

The Lawrence County council then voted to raise the pay and was able to get the Lawrence County Public Defenders Office back to full staff.

In August 2021 Bruce Andis again asked for an additional appropriation of $50,000 to pay the salary of an additonal public defender.

Lawrence County is a member of the Public Defender Commission which allows counties to be reimbursed through the Public Defense Fund up to 40 percent of felony and juvenile indigent defense expenses and can receive 50 percent reimbursement of capital case defense costs.

The Indiana Public Defender Commission also regulates a quarterly limit for proper attorney caseloads.

In January of 2022, the salary for a chief public defender was $159,950. Lawrence County has received $303,823.65 in compensation from participating in the Public Defender Commission in 2021 and $2,776,450.33 in total compensation since participating. Participation in the program is voluntary and each county can decide if they want to participate in the program. Lawrence County was not in compliance last year which reduced the amount of compensation that the county was reimbursed.

During Tuesday night’s meeting, Lawrence County Prosecutor Sam Arp asked for an additional deputy prosecutor to help work through a backlog of approximately 2,000 cases. The deputy prosecutor will only be used for one to two years to work through the caseload and that position then will be terminated.

Lawrence County Prosecutor Sam Arp

Prosecutor Arp is working on ARP ( American Rescue Plan) Grant to pay for the position but wanted the position budgeted for 2022. The county council advised Prosecutor Arp to have the grant approved before it can be appropriated in the 2022 budget.

Lawrence County Prosecutor Budget:

  • 2021 Budget – $428,541
  • 20022 Proposed budget – $524,017

The final adoption for the 2022 budget cycle is not until October 7, 2021.

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