Supervisor Calls For Due Diligence When It Comes To Public Defenders
Published: October 17th, 2011
By: Melissa deCordova

NORWICH – Whether it’s the social services department or public defender’s office, some entity should investigate a client’s ability to pay for his or her own defense before assigning them a lawyer at taxpayers’ expense.

So said Town of Plymouth Supervisor Jerry Kreiner at a meeting of the Chenango County Board of Supervisors last week. The Plymouth supervisor was reacting to a resolution to supplement the Chenango County Public Defender’s budget for assigned counsel expenses.

“There’s not a whole lot of due diligence that goes into investigating the financial status of those applying for public defense,” he said, indicating – as he has to his committee and the board in the past – that clients do not divulge their assets on applications for public defense and could either be on social services or working off the books.

Public Defender Alan Gordon told members of the Safely and Rules Committee earlier this year that approximately 50 percent of his clients are on public services.

The levy will be tapped for nearly $500,000 for public defender services this year, an amount that has grown since New York State began slashing aid. Funds from the state for assigned counsel have been cut in half, from $154,800 back in 2009 to $60,000 this year.

Gordon requested that an additional $32,000 be added to his budget this year, for the most part to cover appeals that have occurred over the past two years, including the Peter M. Wlasiuk, George Ford and Michael Victor cases.

However, Chairman Richard B. Decker said the Chenango County Department of Social Services is barred from screening clients for their ability to pay unless the Public Defenders’s office suspects fraud, and the Public Defender cannot, by law, investigate its clients.

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