Allegany County, NY, legislators will hold a public hearing next week on a proposed local law to establish a second county office to represent indigent defendants although no specific costs have been provided for what appears to be a several hundred thousand dollars venture and some lawmakers appearing to be unfamiliar with what is being created and how it will work.
Establishment of a new Office of Conflict Defender will be the subject of a public hearing at 2PM Wednesday, November 22, which creates a position which will be second in line behind the public defender for cases in which that office has a conflict of interest.
Cases involving conflict currently are handled by contracted assigned counsels which would be relegated to a third level ranking for representation if there are conflicts of interest in the other two departments.
Assigned counsel attorneys hard to find
County Attorney Allison Carrow introduced the package two weeks ago to the Board of Legislators Public Safety Committee, saying there is a statewide “drought” of attorneys available as assigned counsel, resulting in the need for a full-time office which would report to County Administrator Carissa Knapp.
Under the proposal, the conflict defender would be appointed initially to a term which expires with those of county legislators on December 31, 2025, and subsequently resulting in a four-year term of office to align with that of the county board.
The defender would be able to appoint assistants and support staff, as approved by the county board.
Salary is undetermined
No salary has been determined for the position, which requires an attorney with a minimum of five years experience in criminal or family court law.
By comparison, the county attorney is scheduled to receive $120,950 next year and the public defender $114,000 under a new salary schedule approved within the past month by the board, together with a significant percentage of fringe benefits which vary by position.
Five assistant public defenders range from $108,000 to $51,500, two assistant county attorney positions are at $84,350 each, and five assistant district attorneys range from $108,000 to $54,100, with three being part-time.
Last year, the county spent $473,380 for assigned counsel services and through last month has spent some $365,000 this year for the contracted services.
Next year’s budget currently is calling for $238,001 for assigned counsel, although it is unclear as to whether this is the amount which is anticipated to be spent for both the second and third tiers of the system or those funds will be transferred to a conflict defender account.
If re-allocated, the total expense wouldn’t include fringe benefits which are included in other parts of the budget.
Apparent unclarity about position
In the meantime, it also is unclear as to how familiar the Board of Legislators are with the package.
In a story in the The Wellsville Sun blog marketer, Legislator Steve Havey of Wellsville, who introduced the local law last week, is quoted as saying: “It is my understanding that the Office of Conflict Defender would be under the Public Defender’s Office and not creating another department head.”
He also said, according to the report that: “The office, most likely, would be staffed with a mixture of full time and part time attorneys (3) and a secretary. This would be actually cheaper and more efficient than Assigned Counsel,” with neither statement appearing to align with what has been set forth in the local law.
Any cost savings would be determined by eventual staffing and how much assigned counsel still may be needed in event of conflicts.
The local law is available at http://bit.ly/3TEIEYr, with Havey’s comments at http://bit.ly/3UVjpCb.
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