County seeks solution for public defender crunch

Bartholomew County will be setting up a panel to look into whether or not the county could move to a full-time public defender’s office, or find another solution for the overloaded public defender system.

Magistrate Joe Meek brought the proposal to the county commissioners yesterday on behalf of the county’s three judges, saying the formation of the 3-member board is required by the state for the county to start the process.

Meek said the county is constitutionally mandated to pay to represent defendants who can’t pay for their own attorneys. Between the three courts, nearly 2,000 defendants required public defenders last year and the numbers for this year are already trending higher.

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Now each Bartholomew County court contracts for public defenders with lawyers in the county. That means each attorney also pays for their own office staff and supplies to support the public defender’s mission.

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Meek said that the board had three separate options for recommendations.

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If the board recommended a full-time public defender’s office be created, and the county approved the plan, the state would pick up 60 percent of the cost, Meek said.

Commissioners gave their first approval to an ordinance establishing the board.