LIMA — Allen County’s newly-appointed public defender has a wealth of experience, although his hours inside the courtroom to date have been on the opposite side of the criminal justice system from those he’ll now be experiencing.
Kenneth Sturgill, a veteran attorney in the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office, was named Monday to take over the newly-created position as the full-time Allen County Public Defender.
Joe Patton, executive director of Allen County’s Ohio Means Jobs, who headed up a five-member commission tasked by county commissioners with developing a full-time public defenders office they hope will prove to be more cost-efficient than the existing part-time program — said Sturgill stood out among the “eight or nine” applicants for the position.
Other members of the committee included Allen County Auditor Rachael Gilroy and attorneys Edward Pedlow and Bill Vandemark and area resident Derek Richardson. They voted unanimously to offer the position to Sturgill. His first day on the job was Monday.
“In Kenny we’re getting someone with a great amount of experience. We were looking for someone to build this office from the ground up and who has the leadership and management abilities to do that,” Patton said. “There is a huge technical side to getting this program up and running, and that’s one of Mr. Sturgill’s strengths.”
Allen County Commissioners in October finalized the purchase of a $175,000 building at 417 N. West St. that will house the new public defender’s office. The office is currently located within the Lima Municipal Court building and will remain there until the new office is in full operation. Sturgill said he is aiming for a 60-day window to make that happen.
“My first order of business is to post a job listing for the position of chief assistant to help me build this office,” Sturgill said. “Then we’ll be looking to hire five or six attorneys — a blend of part-time and full-time positions — and between two and four administrative professionals.”
Sturgill starts his new job at an annual salary of $96,000 and said he hopes to be able to offer incoming members of his staff a competitive wage. He is an eight-year veteran of the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office and was instrumental in developing that office’s diversion program that allows first-time, non-violent criminal offenders the opportunity “to prove they are good members of society” by completing a program that allows them to have their felony conviction wiped from their record.
Sturgill said the opportunity to head up Allen County’s fledgling full-time public defender’s office came at the right time for him professionally.
“When this position was first posted, I felt I was the right person for the job based on my experience and knowledge of the court system. Over the last eight years, with the amount of time I’ve spent in common pleas court, I have long had the belief that we can do a better and more cost-efficient job of representing indigent defendants,” Sturgill said. “This is something we’ve needed for a long time.”
Currently, public defenders serve at hourly rates. Patton said a full-time office will help improve indigent defense services by being able to better control schedules of the attorneys in that office, and overall, the move will produce better efficiency costs for the county.
In September, the county commissioners estimated that the costs to set up the full-time office will range between $970,000 and $1.2 million in total. County taxpayers will be responsible for at least 30% of the total cost. The state is expected to reimburse the remaining 70% of the costs associated with the office.