The Office of Defender Services is seeking more state funding this year - in part to handle cases connected to last year’s riot at Vaughn Correctional Center.
The Conflicts Counsel office handles the most complex and costly cases.
Chief Defender Brendan O’Neill said difficult cases like the Vaughn cases are more expensive. Eighteen Vaughn inmates are charged with crimes connected to the riot and 16 are charged with the first-degree murder of correctional officer Sgt. Steven Floyd.
O’Neill said he’s asking for an additional $600,000 above what the governor is recommending in his budget to handle these and other complex cases. He says all defendants are presumed innocent and have the right to their day in court.
“Everyone of us in this country if charged with a crime that could possibly result in a jail sentence has the right to an effective lawyer," he said. "And our agency is the agency responsible for providing the lawyers who defend these clients.”
O’Neill said the Vaughn cases will be expensive. But he says failing to get these complex cases right the first time could lead to costly mistakes.
“If you take this principle to an extreme and we are so far in the weeds in terms of caseloads being too high and the lawyers can’t dedicate the time, energy and effort to defend their clients clients properly, we could be in a position where ‘Alright, we have to do them again.’ Which becomes more expensive,” he said.
O’Neill said lawyers in the Office of the Defender Services already have caseloads above the recommended limit.
Numbers from the Office of Conflicts Council show that actual and projected costs continually outpace state funding. The office is projecting a more than $1 million shortfall for the curent fiscal year.