04 June 2009

Session Reveals Funding Crisis for Public Defender Services

Among the measures that the Legislature passed during its three-day special session this week include a $21 million appropriation meant to cover overdue fee claims from lawyers who accept court-appointed cases.

As The Associated Press reports, "Gov. Joe Manchin proposed the supplemental appropriation amid complaints of a chronic backlog of past-due fee payments owed by the state's Public Defender Services... Budgeted for $31.7 million for this fiscal year, which ends June 30, Public Defender Services ran out of money March 10."

But while a new billing timetable contributed to the size of the backlog, the program has routinely depleted its funding in recent years. Proposed long-term solutions differ, with Manchin advocating more public defender offices staffed by salaried lawyers to handle these cases.

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