No more money for public defenders in Kentucky budget

Public defenders who help the poor and keep your community safe will not be getting any more money in the new budget.

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin’s original budget included additional dollars for public defenders and social workers. They work to get drug abusers clean so they won’t make the same mistake.

Chris McNeill says he thinks more funding now could have saved taxpayers down the road. He isn’t always in court but, for the most part, he’s either in court or prepping for it. “It’s just very difficult to keep up. Sometimes you come into court and you have to call out your client’s name to remember what it is that’s going on in the case,” McNeill told me.

McNeill is the trial office manager for Paudcah’s public defenders office. It’s an office dedicated to helping those who are less fortunate, according to McCracken County Circuit Judge Craig Clymer.

Clymer says more funding should be a priority. He says the more resources a public defender has, the better chance the defendant has a fair trial. “It’s important that they have not only somebody there with them, an attorney, but someone who’s funded adequately that they can effectively represent them,” Clymer added.

On average, a public defender in Kentucky has 448 cases a year.

For McNeill, more money would have meant a more productive team of lawyers who have more time to devote to each case. “We can help people get their lives back on track, get back into their jobs, and get back with their families.”

He’s talking about alternate sentencing. It helps keep nonviolent offenders from going to jail. That costs taxpayers $36.25 every day a person is in jail. More money from the legislature would have led to more social workers to organize rehab facilities and help drug abusers.

The Courier Journal says Kentucky has the second lowest starting salary for public defenders at $38,770 a year.

Not everyone qualities for a public defender. You have to fill out a form, and the circuit judge will decide whether he or she thinks you can afford a private attorney.