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9:33 PM Mon, Nov. 12th

Possible windfall reported

Stability in Public Defender’s Office could save Mohave County $500,000

KINGMAN - The Mohave County Public Defender's Office has seen its share of ups and downs this year, according to a report given to the Board of Supervisors on Monday.

Chief Legal Defender Ron Gilleo asked the Board to continue the report presentation because he felt there may be some discrepancies in the number of cases the Legal Defender's and the Public Defender's offices had handled.

The office saw an increase in the number of attorneys that were hired and elected to stay with the office. Public Defender Dana Hlavac credited the county's tuition reimbursement and more selective recruitment practices.

The tuition reimbursement program recently was extended to the County Attorney's Office. Attorneys have to work for either the Public Defender's or County Attorney's offices for more than two years to be eligible. The program matches, up to a certain point, the amount of money an attorney sends every month to pay off his student loans.

Hlavac said most attorneys in his office have been working for the county for at least two years. And this year, the office lost only four attorneys, unlike earlier years when the office experienced a lot of turnover.

The office also is doing a better job at screening potential employees, Hlavac said. Instead of hiring anyone that applies, the office looks to see if the potential employee is willing to live and work in a rural community, such as Kingman. This cuts back on the number of attorneys who leave after a year for bigger cities because they don't like the rural area.

Because of the increase in attorneys staying with the office, Hlavac said he expects the county to spend $500,000 less next year on contracting cases out to private attorneys.

This year, however, the PDO saw an increase in the cost to handle a case before the court. It cost the PDO about $839 per case this year, an increase of about $168 from last year. It cost the Legal Defender's office about $1,140 per case this year, an increase of about $317 from last year. And it cost the county about $973 per case for a private attorney to handle any cases the LDO or PDO could not, an increase of about $40 from last year.

The office also saw an odd increase in the number of arrests by local law enforcement, but a 17-percent drop in the number of felony cases brought before the court by the County Attorney's Office.

A shortage of attorneys at the CAO could be the cause, Hlavac said. The CAO has had some problems recruiting new attorneys and has not filed as many cases as it usually does.

Hlavac expected the number of cases filed to increase as the CAO hires more attorneys using the tuition-reimbursement program as an incentive.

In order to streamline matters, reduce case conflicts and improve case flow through the courts, Hlavac suggested the county create a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council. The council would be made up of representatives from the County Attorney's, Legal Defender's and Public Defender's offices, as well as the courts and local law enforcement.

The Board accepted the report with the condition that the Legal Defender's Office could amend it if it found any discrepancies.