Public Defenders office ask for an additional appropriation

LAWRENCE CO. – The Lawrence County Council approved Chief Public Defender Bruce Andis’ request of $50,000 to pay the salary of special public defenders, who did not submit invoices for their services in a timely manner.

The special public defenders were hired to handle certain cases.

Their invoices were to be submitted on a monthly basis however, the special defenders failed to do that. Andis stated this issue has been addressed.

Bruce Andis Chief Public Defender

Lawrence County Council members asked Andis why they are still receiving requests to pay for special public defenders. Andis said unless the council approves hiring more public defenders there will always be a need to hire special public defenders. Special public defenders are also needed in cases involving a conflict of interest.

The Public Defenders Commission also limits the number of cases each public defender can handle at one time. In addition, certain types of cases such as a Level 4 or 5 felony case may also limit the number of cases a public defender is assigned.

Andis said he will request additional payment for special defenders again in October.

“I do not think it will be that much, however, we will be back,” said Andis.

The public defender’s office does allow for such costs in their annual budget each year for these the need of special public defenders. However, Andis is asking the council to consider raising the budget line item. The county has received several court orders from the summer of 2020 until the hiring of additional public defenders to pay for contractual and special attorneys.

The Public Defender Commission ordered the Lawrence County Public Defenders office not to take on additional cases on at least two occasions in 2020 when the public defender’s office was short-staffed.

Councilmember Julie Hewetson asked Andis if there is a way to get a warning ahead of time for these additional requests for special public defenders. According to Andis, the hiring of special defenders happens on a regular basis which is about once or twice a week.

Lawrence County Auditor Jessica Staggs reports that approximately $60,000 from salaries were transferred out of the budget earlier this year to cover some of the salaries for special defenders.

Andis reports his office is fully staffed at this time with six attorneys ready to take on cases. County Councilmember Rick Butterfield asked how the staffing at the Lawrence County Prosecutor’s office compares to the public defender’s office. According to Prosecutor Sam Arp, his salary and the deputy prosecutor’s salary is paid by the state and there are four other deputy prosecutors in his office who are paid by the county.

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

Salary recommendation for Indiana public defenders under counties participating in the Indiana Public Defender Commission can be referenced below.

Chief PD$156,125$159,950
Part Time Chief PD (.66)$103,043$105,568
Part Time Chief PD (.6)$93,675$95,970
Chief Deputy PD$117,094$119,963
Part Time Chief Dep (.66)$77,282$79,175
Part Time Chief Dep (.6)$70,256$71,977

Lawrence County has received $304,823.65 in compensation from participating in the Public Defender Commission in 2021, with a total of $2,776,450.33 in total compensation since 2010.

The budget for the public defender’s office in 2022 is proposed at $907,503.