COLUMBUS (AP) — The Ohio public defender says qualified lawyers are increasingly cutting back on court-appointed work representing poor defendants, leaving that work to less-experienced attorneys.
Providing legal defense to indigent defendants has largely been left to each county in Ohio. Thirty-nine of the state’s 88 counties exclusively appoint private counsel to indigent defense.
But some county’s rates for reimbursing those lawyers haven’t changed for decades, The Columbus Dispatch reported (http://bit.ly/1LM9bc1).
Ohio Public Defender Timothy Young said that the government has kept the pay low to subsidize the prosecution of their clients.
For example, the rate for reimbursing court-appointed lawyers in Licking County is $35 an hour for out-of-court work and $45 for in-court time, up to a maximum reimbursement of $1,000 for a felony case.
“When you figure the cost of providing an office and staff, health and retirement benefits, utilities and supplies, we’re working for a lot less than that,” said Kristin Burkett, a partner in a firm that provides most of the county’s indigent defense work.
Licking County Commissioner Tim Bubb said the original plan was that the state and counties would split the costs equally. But he said that the state began to pay less of its portion when the recession hit.
That portion has slowly started to increase again, Bubb said, with the latest increase from 40 percent to 48 percent in July.
“It’s not like that’s found money,” Bubb said. “We were punished. The state didn’t live up to its end of the bargain, and for a decade the counties have paid dearly for the state’s portion.”
Young has tried unsuccessfully to introduce legislation that would keep the 50/50 split and add more money to the system. He said he thinks indigent defense should be the sole responsibility of the state.