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November 20, 2013

Cass public defender board adopts plan

Limits on caseloads to merit state reimbursements.

The newly formed Cass County Public Defender Board recently adopted its comprehensive plan, setting into motion a goal to receive reimbursements from the state for indigent defense services.

Cass County Commissioners approved the creation of the board last month to comply with regulations established by the Indiana Public Defense Commission. The commission offers compensation to eligible counties for up to 40 percent of non-capital indigent defense services and up to 50 percent for indigent capital services.

The comprehensive plan was adopted unanimously by board members Monday. It establishes no changes to how public defense is currently carried out in the county, but rather sets a limit on how much work the county’s six public defenders are expected to put in.

“The main difference is the caseload limits that the state requires the county to observe if the county is going to get reimbursements,” said Jim Austen, a board member.

The plan sets limits on 14 categories of trial caseloads, spanning from 100, like non-capital murder cases, to 400, like juvenile probation violation cases.

The plan also sets limits for two categories of appeal caseloads, specifically 20 for trial appeals and 40 for guilty plea appeals.

The board will work to ensure public defenders don’t exceed these limits and report the specific figures to the state, which will make the final determination on the county’s reimbursements.

The Cass County Council appropriated $475,000 for public defender salaries for 2013 and 2014. At the public defender board’s first meeting last week, several attorneys expressed a desire for appropriations to be set aside for expenses like investigations and expert witnesses.

When public defenders seek these resources for a case, they have to petition the judge presiding over the case and the expense, if granted, is taken from the court’s budget.

Next year, however, when the public defender board submits a budget for 2015, line items could be included that set aside funds for investigations and expert witnesses.

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