UNION — Both the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit Public Defender and Solicitor spoke to the Union County Council Tuesday evening regarding a need for an additional attorney in the public defender’s office.
Sixteenth Circuit Public Defender Harry Dest — who has served in that position since 2008 and has been a public defender for 23 years — explained to council that there is one attorney — Erik Delaney — in the public defender’s office who works cases for Union County. Dest said Delaney handles 80 percent of all cases that come through Union County, which equaled 896 cases in 2011 and 1,117 cases in 2012. Dest said this is far above ABA standards.
Dest asked council to consider adding another attorney to the office to focus on jail cases, pointing out that this could result in lower cost to Union County in the way of jail population.
Before Dest took the floor, Supervisor Tommy Sinclair had already mentioned the county jail was overpopulated, calling it “a 40-man jail with 60 men in it.”
Dest illustrated his point with statistics, using examples from York County. He mentioned a man who was arrested on Oct. 6, 2012 for possession of marijuana (second offense), whose bond returnable date was Dec. 18, 2012. This means if the public defender’s office was overwhelmed — such as is the case with Union County — and could not have gotten to the case, the man would have remained in jail until that date. However, the case was pleaded to time served only nine days later. This eliminated a potential 64 days of the man’s stay in jail. At a cost to the county of $55 per day, that is a savings of $3,520.
Dest said since the hiring of an additional attorney in October 2012 in York County, the county has saved over $171,000. Dest admitted he realized the resources in York County differ from those in Union, as there are 13 attorneys in the York County office.
“But we don’t handle 1,000 cases a piece,” Dest said.
Dest also asked council to consider what the county allocates to the solicitor’s office compared to the public defender’s office. He said there are two solicitors who handle 100 percent of the cases, while there is only one attorney in the public defender’s office who handles 80 percent of the cases.
Sixteenth Circuit Solicitor Kevin Brackett also spoke to council, echoing Dest’s statements.
“I endorse everything he said,” Brackett said. “You could add five more people to my office, and that would only mean seven people are calling Erik Delaney every day. Right now, it’s two people.”
Brackett also said the issue was not only keeping the jail clear, but also an issue of public safety.
“Talk is cheap,” Brackett said. “I’ll put my money where my mouth is. I’ll help kick-start it by reducing my budget by $15,000.”
Brackett said Dest’s office is also getting another $11,000 from the state this year.
Clerk of Court Freddie Gault added that an additional attorney in the public defender’s office could possibly double or triple the amount of cases going through court.
Dest also asked council to consider hiring the additional attorney at a salary range comparable to that of York County, which is a minimum $47,000 for the first year, $51,000 for the second year, $55,000 for the third year, and $58,000 for the fourth year.
The presentation was for council’s information only.