Jefferson County Depletes Indigent Defense Funds

Crime is taking a bite out of Jefferson County’s budget.

County commissioners were informed Thursday the fund to pay attorneys who represent indigent criminal defendants is nearly depleted.

Commissioners approved attorney fees for August in the amount of $59,563. The auditor’s office reported $308,099 has been spent in courts throughout the county so far this year.

In April, commissioners approved a resolution increasing payment for attorneys representing indigent criminal defendants. The county was paying attorneys $40 an hour for out-of-court work and $50 for in-court representation. The fees increased by $20 a hour.

Commissioners in May were informed by the state public defenders’s office the reimbursement rate to the county was decreasing. They said they will schedule a meeting with the judges to discuss the issue, and county Commissioner David Maple asked the auditor’s office to prepare a spending analysis for attorneys for the past five years.

“I didn’t expect to run out of money in August,” said Maple. “I thought maybe October.”

In other matters, county Commissioner Thomas Graham said U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, is attempting to overturn a decision removing a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant, which had been earmarked for Brilliant as part of its funding for a new water treatment plant.

The funding was pulled after Martin Sohovich, former regional planning commission director, allowed the project to proceed without an environmental analysis, which is a requirement of the federal Housing and Urban Development.

Commissioners approved allowing Johnson’s office access to the Brilliant file. Graham said he also will contact U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, for help.

Graham said there is a 50-50 chance the funding may be restored.

“We are trying to help Brilliant get the $500,000 due to the mistake of the former regional planning commission director,” Graham said.

Sohovich is running against Graham for commissioner in the general election.

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