July 30, 2009
Adams County to seek indigent defense proposals
By Jennifer Larsen
Attorneys in the surrounding area will have an opportunity to submit a proposal for indigent defense for Adams County after the county commissioners received a proposal from the current public defenders on July 27.
Chris Bajalcaliev and Dennis Lewellen met with the commissioners to discuss a proposal for indigent defense contract for 2010-2014.
They proposed a contract amount of $380,000 for 2010 with a $20,000 yearly increase to cover the cost of living and inflation.
The contract would be for two years that could be extended for an additional two years, which is the same term as the current contract that began in 2006.
“An $80,000 increase is pretty hard to swallow,” Chairman Rudy Plager said to Bajalcaliev.
Commissioner Roger Hartwig agreed. “To me, it would be very hard for us to come up with those numbers.”
“Not unless we shopped the market… If we shopped the market and that’s the amount, that’s the way it is,” Commissioner Jeff Stevens added. “This is not a reflection of the quality of service. It’s basically our job to watch the coffers.”
The commissioners tentatively set Aug. 24 to open proposals with public notices published in area newspapers the week of Aug. 13 and 20.
According to information provided to the commissioners in a letter from Bajalcaliev dated July 23, of the 208 to 228 Superior Court filings in the last four years the public defenders represented 85 to 90 percent.
In addition, a full-time equivalent attorney is necessary in each district court based on caseload standards and indigent defense is required at all first appearances in superior court.
Based on Bajalcaliev’s information, the volume of cases requires at least 4.5 FTE attorneys to meet caseload limits.
The letter stated, “We have not had an increase in compensation in four years, although our overhead has certainly increased. Our proposal still pales in comparison to the prosecutor’s budget.”
Plager was quick to note that the original contract proposal in 2005 was for $250,000 per year but that after negotiations it was increased to $300,000 to accommodate renting office space in Ritzville as well as an additional two attorneys.
Since then the Office of Public Defense has provided funding to compensate conflict attorneys, totaling $29,000 in 2010.
As Plager explained, although the additional funding didn’t go directly to the public defenders, it did reduce the amount that would’ve been spent for conflict attorney services.
Bajalcaliev pointed out, “But that’s not going into my pocket.” He and Lewellen explained that although the current contract amount hasn’t increased, increased costs for travel, postage and salaries to retain good help have.
“Just about everything has been an increase,” Bajalcaliev said, including his health insurance.