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Sun, April 21

Road easement, flood control on supervisors' agenda

In Mohave County, in addition to trying to provide effective counsel to clients, the public defender's office has a challenge just in keeping lawyers.

Hlavac has 16, but there are four vacancies.

In addition, the legal defender's office – which handles cases in which the public defender's office has a conflict of interest – is authorized six lawyers but has only three.

As is common with other civil servant jobs in Mohave County, the public defender's office has a challenge attracting people to a rural desert city.

Attorneys attend law school in big cities and are used to the advantages places such as Phoenix and Las Vegas have to offer.

This includes "intellectual stimulation, money and a 'big-firm' mentality," Hlavac said.

Not only that, but "social pressure prefers prosecutors," Hlavac said.

"Prosecution is glorified … in the press and TV shows." However, "There's a very strong minority (of attorneys) who are committed to criminal defense."

Salary alone is not a reason for not coming to Kingman out of college, Hlavac said.

He notes that the public defender's office is competitive for entry-level salaries for lawyers fresh out of law schoolavac.

Their starting salaries were fixed two years ago by the county board of supervisors.

But it's a different story for more experienced lawyers.

"I have a problem with senior-level attorneys" in regard to offering a competitive salary," Hlavac said.

"It's a huge problem.

People are coming here five years and leaving.

"It costs me $120,000 to get an attorney trained to be competent.

Just about the time where I'm getting a return on my money, they leave."

After five years on the job, lawyers in the public defender's officer can leave Mohave County and go to Maricopa County and get $10,000 to $20,000 more a year.

Or, they can get two or three times as much by working in private practice.

There was a "mass exodus" from the public defender's office in 2000, Hlavac said.

This was because the county was offering private practice attorneys $35,000 to do 70 cases.

"Attorneys left this office and took two contracts and made $70,000 (a year)," Hlavac said.

Those who stayed had a salary in the mid-$40,000 range and handled between 400 and 500 cases a year, he added.

Hlavac said he has five lawyers who live out of town on weekends.

Two live in Las Vegas, one in Tucson and one in Flagstaff.

Another has a fiancé who lives in Phoenix, and is to be married in a few months.

This kind of situation works on a temporary basis but won't last for in the long term, Hlavac said.

Aside from recruitment and retention of lawyers, Hlavac has other ideas for improving the office.

He is trying to establish an intervention program for youth before they get into the court system.

"We're aimed at reaching further out to identify kids who aren't in the system yet," he said.

"I'm concerned with juveniles who are sucked into our system.

Once you're pulled into the judicial system, you're introduced to an entire (different) way of life.

"Our society doesn't allow corporal punishment anymore, so they end up in juvenile court and are labeled 'delinquents,' " he said.

Hlavac is working with the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and other organizations on an early intervention program that will tie at-risk kids into organizations that will help them.

UNLV's Greenspun College of Urban Affairs offers criminal justice and social work programs in Clark County, Nev., aimed at low-level offenders who are already in the system.

Hlavac and UNLV are working on a Mohave County program for children before they get into the system.

"They're interested in working with us in a broader program" that provides graduate students as interns.

In order to get started, the program will need at least one licensed clinical social worker, Hlavac said.

Hlavac sees other challenges for the public defender's office.

He wants to educate people who may be innocent about not pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges until they see an attorney.

"People walk in (to court) on a misdemeanor, plead guilty, have a fine, and go on their way," he said.

Many are guilty, but some are not and don't realize they have a right to counsel.

"They choose to take the quick and easy way out."

The public defender's office is usually not present at defendants' initial appearances before a judge, which often is by video link.

Hlavac would like to change that, although he admits, "We're still not staffed for it."

Roughly half of the cases assigned to the public defender's office are dismissed because charges are never formally filed or are dropped, he said.

Of the remaining cases, "probably 97.5 percent result in plea agreements," he said.

This is how the system works.

Sometimes, one of Hlavac's lawyers expresses disappointment after losing a case.

"I don't care if you won or lost," he said.

"The issue is: did you do everything you could to force the county attorney to prove their case? Did you protect their (defendant's) rights? If you did, then the system worked."

Hlavac laments at least one aspect of "how the system works."

There are times when someone's name appears in the paper because of a felony arrest and they are never formally charged or the charge is dismissed, he said.

Often, this person's life is negatively affected by the arrest.

Hlavac cited a Lake Havasu City man who was arrested for not registering as a sex offender.

Charges were later dropped after authorities found out that they arrested the wrong man.

The man, an accountant, lost all of his clients because of publication of the arrest in a local newspaper, Hlavac said.

All in all, Hlavac is on a mission, a mission to improve the quality of the criminal justice system in Mohave County.

He said he became a lawyer because he wanted to change the system.

Hlavac said he has some of the most courageous lawyers in the world and that together they are trying to make a difference.

KINGMAN – The Mohave County supervisors face an agenda of 127 items when they meet on Monday.

The supervisors start the day at 9 a.m.

by meeting behind closed doors, followed by the regular meeting that starts at 9:30 a.m.

or when the closed session concludes.

The supervisors meet in the board room of the county building at 809 E.

Beale St., Kingman.

Of the items being considered by the supervisors, only four appear under the regular agenda.

They are:

• Discussing and possibly accepting donations from businesses, government agencies and nonprofit organizations for the Coalition Youth Team's summer program.

• Consider a request from Supervisor Buster Johnson to look at vote tabulation problems during the May 18 Kingman election, along with solutions to overcome the problems.

Confusion over more than 1,000 ballots that had been mailed early in the mayoral race in Kingman cast doubt on the outcome of the election, but City Councilwoman Monica Gates prevailed against incumbent Mayor Les Byram.

• A request from Johnson to review all county road easements, with the supervisors setting policy regarding all county road rights of way.

• An item involving the Mohave Wash flood control project, with the supervisors sitting as the board of the Mohave County Flood Control District.

The project is north of Kingman and entails buying land from property owners in order to do engineering work in the channel and install culverts.

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