[Nameplate] Overcast ~ 52°F  
High: 63°F ~ Low: 54°F
Thursday, May 5, 2016

Changes coming for public defender's office

Saturday, September 19, 2009

GREENCASTLE -- Jan. 1 will bring big changes to the public defender program in Putnam County.

Earlier this week, the budget the Putnam County Commissioners finalized and sent to the Indiana State Board of Accounts contained major cuts to the program -- so major that public defenders will no longer have office space at the courthouse, will no longer be offered health insurance as incentive to be part of the program and will no longer be provided with support staff.

"It was a financial decision, nothing more," said council member Nancy Fogle. "We're going to try it this way, and if it doesn't work we're going to have to try something else."

The budget for running the public defender program in Putnam County has soared to nearly $300,000 annually. The budget now provides $70,000 each year for each of Putnam County's two courts and $25,000 for the courts to share for cases where conflict arises and another attorney would be brought in.

The county's judges are responsible for contracting public defenders.

In accordance with the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, state courts are required to provide counsel in criminal cases to defendants that are unable to afford to hire private attorneys. For many years, public defenders in Putnam County were provided with office space in the Putnam County Courthouse as well as benefits and support staff.

The council was split almost down the middle on whether or not to make the cuts to the public defender program -- Fogle, Keith Berry, Opal Sutherlin and Roger Deck voted in favor; Mitch Proctor and Darrel Thomas voted no; and Larry Parker abstained.

Proctor said although he voted against the changes, he did feel the public defender program in Putnam County "should be handled in a different way."

"The cost just kept going up," he said. "I know it needed to be changed; I'm just not absolutely certain that this was the best, most efficient way to go about it."

Proctor said he would have preferred keeping things the way they were for another year while "putting the judges on notice" that major cuts were coming.

"We did talk to the judges before doing this and they knew it was being looked at, I'm just not sure they knew it would be acted on so quickly," he said.

Circuit Court Judge Matthew Headley said he "didn't want to seem like Chicken Little crying the sky is falling," but that he was concerned about how the cuts would affect the public defender program.

"It's going to be challenging," he said. "We had a system in place that we felt worked well. I hope that we will still be able to provide good representation to indigent people."

Headley said he and Superior Court Judge Denny Bridges presented alternatives to the council -- "not the Cadillac model, not the Yugo model, but the Chevy, something in between" -- but that the members who were in favor of the cuts could not be swayed.

Headley said by his estimate, the money now available for public defenders would leave the judges able to pay indigent counsel an average of $200 per case.

"I'm concerned," Headley admitted. "I don't know that I will be able to get somebody for that."

Headley pointed out that the counties the council looked at as models for public defender programs, such as Clay, Owen and Montgomery, are all smaller than Putnam County.

"I really hope it works," Headley said. "I know they're looking at this as a cost-saving measure. With the economy the way it is, everybody's looking at budgets. The council's job is to look at the nickels and dollars, and I appreciate that. They have to make huge, tough choices."

Ultimately, Headley is hopeful the quality of counsel received by the indigent charged in the Putnam County Courts will not suffer.

"You don't want a guilty person going free, but you certainly don't want an innocent man convicted," he said.

Headley and Proctor agreed that letting go of support staff was one of the most difficult facets of the cuts.

"It's very tough," Proctor said. "I don't think anyone who voted for this did it without regrets. Unfortunately, our job is to look out for the money, and sometimes you have to put your heart on hold."

Proctor said some of the council members were disturbed by such a split vote.

"They wanted to make sure that we would back the vote of the council, and of course we will," he said. "I serve at the will of the council, even if I have my own opinions about things."

Proctor pointed out that although the budget was finalized at the county level, it still doesn't have the state's seal of approval.

"The budget is never a done deal until the state signs off on it," he said.


Comments
Note: The nature of the Internet makes it impractical for our staff to review every comment. If you feel that a comment is offensive, please Login or Create an account first, and then you will be able to flag a comment as objectionable. Please also note that those who post comments on bannergraphic.com may do so using a screen name, which may or may not reflect a website user's actual name. Readers should be careful not to assign comments to real people who may have names similar to screen names. Refrain from obscenity in your comments, and to keep discussions civil, don't say anything in a way your grandmother would be ashamed to read.

Way to make the people of Putnam County feel like they are important. Instead of cutting money where it would hurt the most why not take it from the over PAID county employees. You know who I mean. Why does thgis Nancy Fogle have her hand in so many pots and why does she have this much power. Putnam County is getting worse and worse.

-- Posted by Innocent on Sat, Sep 19, 2009, at 8:06 AM

Innocent, I don't know who you mean? Please tell me who is being over paid? not trying to start something but you must know something that others do not, just trying to figure out your statement. I like statements supported by facts.

I know several Putnam County employees and also see how there families struggle week to week most qualify for housing assistance and food stamps free lunchs at there respective schools for goodness sake. "OVERPAID" unfortunately if that was only the issue here.

Goverment is a business and should be run like one, UNFORTUNATELY, several Council members can't run there own business let alone the "County Business" but continue to be relected on forgotten promise's. Things are bleak all over but seems the State takes an extra ordinary amount of blame from our local officials! This is one person, who no longer and has not for a long time, trusted the old guard of our County Council. But untill the voters turn out to change them out we all will continue to pay the price of there inebtness....

-- Posted by CastlePirate on Sat, Sep 19, 2009, at 2:17 PM

Government is NOT a business and should not be operated as one.

-- Posted by Harmony Church on Sat, Sep 19, 2009, at 3:43 PM

it is awful funny how everyone was asked to cut budgets but you didn't hear that the council or commissioners offered to give back any of their hard-earned money. Why is that?!

-- Posted by indianaresident on Sat, Sep 19, 2009, at 4:26 PM

Benedick, I agree, Right to counsel is currently generally regarded as a constituent of the right to a fair trial, allowing for the defendant to be assisted by counsel (i.e. lawyers), and if he cannot afford his own lawyer, requiring that the government should appoint one for him, or pay his legal expenses.

In the United States, while the right to counsel in trials by the federal government was recognized by the US Bill of Rights, the affirmation that this right extended to cases tried by state courts (i.e. most criminal trials, including for crimes such as murder in most cases) came much later. While some state supreme courts affirmed this right during the 19th century, it was only in the 1963 decision Gideon v. Wainwright that the American Supreme Court affirmed the right for defendants to have counsel in felony trials.

As stated in Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387, the rights granted by 6th and 14th Amendments "mean at least that a person is entitled to the help of a lawyer at or after the time that judicial proceedings have been initiated against him, whether by formal charge, preliminary hearing, indictment, information, or arraignment." 430 U.S. at 398. Brewer goes on to conclude that once adversary proceedings have begun against a defendant, he has a right to legal representation when the government interrogates him. 430 U.S. at 401, citing Massiah v. United States, 377 U.S. 201.

In Louisiana, the state Supreme Court has discussed at what point the right to counsel attached under the state and federal constitutions in State v. Hattaway, 621 So. 2d 796 (La. 1993). In this case, the Court repeated the Brewer condition that the Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches after the commencement of adverse judicial criminal proceedings, and that the right exists only during pre-trial confrontations that can be considered "critical stages" during adverse judicial criminal proceedings. 621 So.2d at 801. No clear definition of a critical stage was given, but interrogation of a defendant by police officers was offered as an example of a critical stage in that case.

Some states extend the right to counsel to all matters where a defendant's liberty interest is threatened. The New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously held that, regardless of whether the proceeding is labeled as civil, criminal, or administrative, if a defendant faces a loss of liberty, she or he is entitled to appointed counsel if indigent. Anne Pasqua, et al. v. Hon. Gerald J. Council, et al., 186 N.J. 127 (2006) (March 2006).

The United States Supreme Court has held in Brewer v. Williams, 430 U.S. 387, 399 (1977) that when a defendant is arrested, "arraigned on [an arrest] warrant before a judge," and "committed by the court to confinement," "[t]here can be no doubt . that judicial proceedings ha[ve] been initiated." and the Sixth Amendment right to counsel has attached. (Rothgery v. Gillespie County, 554 U.S. _

In addition, the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution reads as thus:

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense

The Last line being the Key. I rest my case...:)

-- Posted by Afghan Contractor on Wed, Sep 23, 2009, at 11:03 PM

The comment by Nancy Fogle ("We're going to try it this way, and if it doesn't work we're going to have to try something else.") is not a vote of confidence, in my opinion, of our Commissioners. If it doesn't work, how much more is it going to cost our county? Was that thought about or discussed? I see disaster written all over this decision, I hope it doesn't cost our county more in the long run.

-- Posted by NotSoInnocent on Fri, Sep 25, 2009, at 9:30 AM


Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: