Public defender's office may double in staff

The Mohave County Public Defender is asking county supervisors to nearly double his staff to keep up with the increasing number of felony cases.

Public Defender Dana Hlavac is asking the board of supervisors for nine additional lawyers and three investigators.

Currently, the department has 11 lawyers and two investigators.

The additional cost would be $551,000 per year as compared with the county paying $803,000 for private lawyers on contract for the case overflow.

According to a case from the 1980s, a public defender should handle no more than 150 felony cases a year.

The number of cases lawyers in the public defender's office now handle is "much more" than that.

Those lawyers commonly work more than 50 hours a week, Hlavac said.

In February, the American Bar Association confirmed 150 felony cases as a reasonable number of cases per attorney.

The additional lawyers Hlavac is seeking would bring the number of cases per attorney per year closer to that figure, he said.

Hlavac said he currently has about four lawyers and the same number of investigators interested in the possible openings.

If the supervisors approved the funding for the attorneys, he would start hiring almost immediately.

The department also has one lawyer handling only juvenile cases.

One of the nine new lawyers also might represent juveniles.

The department also handles an unknown number of misdemeanor cases, Hlavac said.

The budget request goes before the supervisors for a vote in July.

Last year, supervisors approved a 9 percent raise in starting salaries for lawyers in the public defender's office to compete with similar size counties.