Court asking county for additional defense attorneys

March 6, 2013

They’re known in legal lingo as “conflict attorneys,” but at the Washington County commissioners’ agenda-setting meeting, the mere mention brought up the board’s continuing conflict with the courts over funding.

In cases involving a pair or more of criminal defendants who cannot afford to pay for legal representation, one defendant is entitled to use the services of the public defender’s office, which is paid for by taxpayers’ dollars. The court appoints, also at taxpayer expense, what is known as a “conflict attorney” or conflict attorneys for a second or additional indigent defendant.

Three conflict attorneys handled 240 cases last year in Washington County Court, about double the number of cases considered optimal.

The courts are asking that the county hire two additional conflict attorneys at a contractual cost of $25,000 each, the same in effect for last year’s conflict attorneys, two of whom are no longer performing that work.

Although there is money in the court’s budget to pay for the positions, the request on which the commissioners expect to vote today led to a discussion about an issue between them and the courts which has not yet been resolved, and Commission Chairman Larry Maggi asked if there had been any movement.

Since last year, the commissioners have been expecting $235,000 from 2011 adult probation fees not yet paid to the county’s general fund.

The county will bill another $235,000 from the same set of fees imposed in 2012 after the county controller closes the books for the year.

The dispute centers on raises for probation department supervisors, who make less than the officers who work under them.

Barbara S. Miller covers politics, Washington County government and a variety of other topics for the Observer-Reporter. She is a graduate of Washington & Jefferson College, majoring in English and history. Follow her on Twitter @reporterbarb.

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