State's way of paying public defenders debated

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The state pays the salaries of its judges and prosecutors, but public defenders are paid by counties that are only partially reimbursed for their costs — an approach that some including the executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council want to see changed.

Larry Landis said it's time to pay public defenders, who represent people who can't afford attorneys, the same way as prosecutors because the current pay system is unfair. The idea surfaced at a legislative committee meeting Monday.

"They've abdicated their state responsibility," Landis said. "You're talking about a constitutionally mandated service where people's liberties are on the line."

In Indiana, counties determine how public defenders are paid. Some public defenders work under contract, while others are appointed by judges on a case-by-case basis. There is no statewide system.

Regardless of how they handle paying for indigent defense, the counties that apply get 40 percent of the money they spend on public defenders back from the state. In the last budget, the state set aside $14.8 million to cover public defender costs, and Landis said only 48 counties have set up the local commissions required to receive any of the money.

"If money is tight, which it is, spending money on poor people who are accused of crimes is not going to be a high priority for county funding," Landis said.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Tim Brown said Tuesday he's open to the idea of the state paying public defenders if it can gain broad government support.

But Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley said the state simply doesn't have the money to do it, and he's satisfied with the current arrangement.

"We do pay a share of that now and the counties pay a share of that," Kenley said. "This way they have an incentive to keep the cost under control."

The lack of state salaries is felt on both sides of the courtroom. Other than the elected prosecutor and his chief deputy, the other county prosecutors also are paid by their counties. Low pay leads to high turnover and a lack of experienced attorneys on both sides, said Landis and the executive director of the Indiana Prosecuting Attorneys Council, David Powell.

"Certainly the pay's too low," Powell said. "You ought to be able to make a career of that and pay your bills and raise your family."

Aaron Negangard, prosecutor of Dearborn and Ohio counties in southeastern Indiana, doesn't believe it's fair for public defenders to get the same pay as prosecutors. He said they don't carry the caseloads that prosecutors do and that the burden of proof is on the state, not the defense.

"I'm satisfied with the system the way it is," said Negangard, who heads the prosecuting attorneys' lobbying group. "I think the state reimbursement program works well. It keeps the control in the county."


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  1. The voices of the prophets are more on blogs than subway walls these days, Dawn. Here is the voice of one calling out in the wilderness ... against a corrupted judiciary ... that remains corrupt a decade and a half later ... due to, so sadly, the acquiescence of good judges unwilling to shake the forest ... for fear that is not faith ..

  2. So I purchased a vehicle cash from the lot on West Washington in Feb 2017. Since then I found it the vehicle had been declared a total loss and had sat in a salvage yard due to fire. My title does not show any of that. I also have had to put thousands of dollars into repairs because it was not a solid vehicle like they stated. I need to find out how to contact the lawyers on this lawsuit.

  3. It really doesn't matter what the law IS, if law enforcement refuses to take reports (or take them seriously), if courts refuse to allow unrepresented parties to speak (especially in Small Claims, which is supposedly "informal"). It doesn't matter what the law IS, if constituents are unable to make effective contact or receive any meaningful response from their representatives. Two of our pets were unnecessarily killed; court records reflect that I "abandoned" them. Not so; when I was denied one of them (and my possessions, which by court order I was supposed to be able to remove), I went directly to the court. And earlier, when I tried to have the DV PO extended (it expired while the subject was on probation for violating it), the court denied any extension. The result? Same problems, less than eight hours after expiration. Ironic that the county sheriff was charged (and later pleaded to) with intimidation, but none of his officers seemed interested or capable of taking such a report from a private citizen. When I learned from one officer what I needed to do, I forwarded audio and transcript of one occurrence and my call to law enforcement (before the statute of limitations expired) to the prosecutor's office. I didn't even receive an acknowledgement. Earlier, I'd gone in to the prosecutor's office and been told that the officer's (written) report didn't match what I said occurred. Since I had the audio, I can only say that I have very little faith in Indiana government or law enforcement.

  4. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

  5. In response to bryanjbrown: thank you for your comment. I am familiar with Paul Ogden (and applaud his assistance to Shirley Justice) and have read of Gary Welsh's (strange) death (and have visited his blog on many occasions). I am not familiar with you (yet). I lived in Kosciusko county, where the sheriff was just removed after pleading in what seems a very "sweetheart" deal. Unfortunately, something NEEDS to change since the attorneys won't (en masse) stand up for ethics (rather making a show to please the "rules" and apparently the judges). I read that many attorneys are underemployed. Seems wisdom would be to cull the herd and get rid of the rotting apples in practice and on the bench, for everyone's sake as well as justice. I'd like to file an attorney complaint, but I have little faith in anything (other than the most flagrant and obvious) resulting in action. My own belief is that if this was medicine, there'd be maimed and injured all over and the carnage caused by "the profession" would be difficult to hide. One can dream ... meanwhile, back to figuring out to file a pro se "motion to dismiss" as well as another court required paper that Indiana is so fond of providing NO resources for (unlike many other states, who don't automatically assume that citizens involved in the court process are scumbags) so that maybe I can get the family law attorney - whose work left me with no settlement, no possessions and resulted in the death of two pets (etc ad nauseum) - to stop abusing the proceedings supplemental and small claims rules and using it as a vehicle for harassment and apparently, amusement.