October 26, 2013

Cass officials aim for public defense reimbursements

Board established to oversee compliance.

by Mitchell Kirk Pharos-Tribune

---- — Cass County officials are aiming for what could be returns of thousands of dollars by participating in a state program that reimburses counties for public defense expenses.

The Indiana Public Defense Commission offers compensation to eligible counties for up to 40 percent for non-capital indigent defense services and up to 50 percent for indigent capital defense services. The state’s Public Defense Fund reimburses for capital cases, felonies and most juvenile cases.

Cass County Commissioners recently passed an ordinance creating a public defender board to ensure the necessary qualifications to receive reimbursements are met.

Commissioners appointed Jay Hirschauer, an attorney with Hirschauer & Hirschauer in Logansport, to the three-person board.

Those filling the remaining two spots must be members of different political parties and will be chosen by the judges of the county’s circuit and two superior courts.

Cass County Superior Court II Judge Rick Maughmer said he and the other judges have yet to decide on their appointments and encourages all interested persons to contact any of the judges. Cass County Circuit Court can be reached at 574-753-7730, Cass County Superior Court I can be reached at 574-753-7735 and Cass County Superior Court II can be reached at 574-735-6841.

The ordinance states attorneys for cities, counties and towns; law enforcement officers; judges and court employees are not eligible for consideration.

Hirschauer said the board, which will meet at least once a quarter, will begin by hiring the county public defenders whose caseloads it will oversee and submit information on to the public defender commission in Indianapolis.

Cass County currently has six public defenders, many of whom Hirschauer said have expressed an interest in continuing as the county embarks on the new initiative.

“There will be a lot of work to do between now and and when the board does the actual hiring,” Hirschauer said.

One of the board’s tasks will be developing a comprehensive plan that will establish an annual operating budget and ways to monitor funds and prepare reports the public defender commission will use to determine the county’s compliance with reimbursement regulations.

Cass County Commissioner Ralph Anderson said the county has explored taking advantage of this opportunity in the past, but large caseloads and noncompliance with other regulations prevented it from being eligible.

A report released by the state public defender commission earlier this month states of the $406,155 the county spent on public defense in 2012, $264,051 would have been eligible for a 40 percent reimbursement, meaning the county would have received $105,620 from the state had it applied for the program.

“We would have qualified across the board,” Anderson said.

Mitchell Kirk is a staff reporter at the Pharos-Tribune. He can be reached at 574-732-5130 or Follow him: @PharosMAK