Public defenders weather cutbacks to help state budget
by Franklin Clark --
Apr 22, 2009 | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Department of Public Advocacy’s Christian County office, which is based in Hopkinsville but works in Christian, Trigg, and other surrounding counties, has, like other DPA offices and other government offices, had to make some cutbacks in order to help address the state’s budgetary shortfall.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear announced Thursday that the DPA will have enough money to continue operations through the end of June via cost-cutting efforts as well as through the allocation of existing funds.

“We are grateful that the governor sees that our office has a constitutional mandate,” said Jennifer Massamore, directing attorney at the Christian County Office. “Hopefully, the General Assembly will approve more funding for us when it meets next January.”

On the state level, steps taken include lower expenditures to “minimal” levels, continuously looking at the need for more expenditures between now and June 30, implementing a hiring freeze until July 1 and allocating about $2 million from the State Salary and Compensation Fund to make sure the DPA can run through June 30, said Jay Blanton with the Governor’s Office.

“We acknowledge that this is a short term fix to a long term problem,” Beshear said. “However, the services provided by this agency are too important to allow them to be discontinued for the remainder of the fiscal year. The entire judicial system would be jeopardized.”

The Christian County office, which has an overall budget of about $1.1 million, has slots for 14 attorneys although they have 13 at the moment, as well as two investigators, four support staff and a social worker, said Massamore, who added that with the hiring freeze, it was doubtful that they will have a 14th attorney at their office anytime soon.

Public defenders from the Christian County office have been involved with 322 cases in Trigg County, 77 of which were circuit court cases and 245 of which were district court cases, out of an overall 8,305 cases in the office’s six county area, Massamore said.

There was proposed legislation that would have given DPA, Commonwealth’s and County Attorneys offices each $4.7 million, but this legislation didn’t pass in the most recent legislative session.

Massamore stressed that all portions of the criminal justice system, including the county attorney’s and commonwealth’s attorney’s offices, need to be funded properly in order for the system to function properly, and said her office also helps contribute to public safety.

If they (the police) have the wrong guy, then the real perp is still at large out there,” Massamore said.

Trigg County Attorney H.B. Quinn said he has also been affected by recent budget cuts, as he had to send the state almost $2,500 in order to supplement the salaries of those who help around his office, and added that if he hadn’t sent in that money, that is how much his employees would have lost through budget cuts.

Unlike the DPA, prosecutors have the legal authority to furlough employees to help address any budget shortfalls, said Blanton. Commonwealth’s Attorney G.L. Ovey said that while offices such as his were scheduled to be furloughed this week, his office will remain open, although he will take the last scheduled furlough in May.
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