|Ohio counties vary in providing defense for poor|
|Written by By Associated Press|
|Sunday, 24 March 2013 05:54|
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Methods of providing lawyers for criminal defendants who can't afford to pay attorneys vary widely among Ohio's 88 counties in terms of cost, efficiency and quality, according to some public defenders.
One state public defender says the differences in the methods used across the state don't follow the spirit of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling five decades ago that said criminal defendants must be provided with a lawyer if they can't afford one, The Columbus Dispatch (http://bit.ly/X1JrFz ) reported Saturday.
State public defender Timothy Young says there are "88 different delivery systems for indigent defense in Ohio" and that is contrary to the spirit of the Gideon v. Wainwright decision issued by the Supreme Court 50 years ago.
The justices unanimously ruled that Clarence Earl Gideon's rights were violated when a Florida judge refused to assign a lawyer to defend him in a burglary case. His burglary conviction was overturned after he was given an attorney.
Young says about 70 percent of all Ohio defendants who face charges that could send them to jail qualify as indigent. Data from the Office of the Ohio Public Defender show Ohio county public defenders handled 258,827 cases in fiscal year 2012. But only 30 counties have public defender's offices, with the rest either appointing private lawyers or contracting with the state public defender's office or with another nonprofit agency.
Each county sets its own fees for lawyers appointed to indigent cases.
A private lawyer in Franklin County appointed to a felony case is paid $60 an hour for work in court and $50 an hour for work outside court. The fees are capped at $800 for a misdemeanor case, $2,500 for a low-level felony, $3,000 for a more-serious felony and $5,000 for a murder case.
Neighboring Licking County doesn't have a public defender's office. Its court-appointed attorneys in felony cases are paid $45 an hour in court and $35 an hour out-of-court. The cap is $500 for misdemeanors and $1,000 for felonies.
Hamilton County, one of the state's largest, caps its fee at $450 for handling a misdemeanor case that goes to trial.
The state public defender's office recommended in its annual report that it be given the authority to set minimum rates for appointed lawyers "to attract and retain quality attorneys."
Young says he believes low pay discourages some of the most capable and experienced lawyers from taking indigent cases.
Columbus defense attorney Robert Krapenc handles 15 to 20 court-appointed felony cases a year in Franklin County, but says he can't afford to do that in other counties, "based on what they pay per hour."
Guidelines established by the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards say a caseload for a public defender shouldn't exceed 400 per year for misdemeanor cases.
Franklin County public defender Yerua Venters says support staff members enable his office to handle more cases than the guidelines suggest. But he says the system "is broken in many places in Ohio."
While there are many capable lawyers representing poor people, "that's not the system everywhere, and it's certainly not the system we're paying for" he said.
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.
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