Commissioners praise indigent defense budget proposal

By Sarah Hawley -

POMEROY — The Meigs County Commissioners passed a resolution on Thursday thanking and praising the work of the Ohio Governor and House of Representatives regarding funding for indigent defense in Ohio. At the same time, the resolution asked the Ohio Senate to adopt the House recommendation on the matter.

Commissioner Randy Smith, who also serves on the County Commissioners Association of Ohio Board of Directors, said that indigent defense funding had been one of the items that the CCAO had looked at early in the year and was part of the lobbying task force’s focus.

When Governor Mike DeWine released his budget proposal in March he called for an additional $60 million to be provided each fiscal year (the budget is for two years) to the counties to be used for indigent defense reimbursement.

The House of Representatives proposal kept that amount, and added an additional $35 million in State Fiscal Year 21 for indigent defense.

According to law, a court appointed attorney is to be provided to a defendant who meets the requirements to be classified as “indigent” or unable to pay for an attorney.

In Meigs County, court-appointed attorneys can be appointed in Common Pleas, County and Juvenile Court. The county contracts with local attorney Charles Knight for county and juvenile court, while there are contracts with several attorneys in common pleas court. The Ohio Public Defender’s Office also handles some of the court appointed attorney cases in the county.

Had the proposed budget changes been in place last year, Smith said it would have saved the county more than $100,000 in 2018 alone.

Smith said that indigent defense, according to the Constitution and a Supreme Court ruling should have been paid for by the state, but that many years ago it was set by the stated that it would be a 50-50 split between the county and the state, with the state to reimburse 50 percent of the cost, while funding was available. In recent years, the reimbursement rate has been closer to 40 percent, going as high as 44 percent, said Smith.

The resolution states in part, “County budgets have been strained for decades by the state passing down to counties its constitutionally-mandated requirement under the U.S. Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainright (1963) that the state provide legal counsel to indigent defendants.”

“The state reimbursement rate to counties for indigent defense costs has only averaged 35 percent from SFY 07 to SFY 16, leaving counties to collectively spend tens of millions in county general revenue funds to fulfill this state mandate,” the resolution continues.

In passing the resolution, Commissioners Tim Ihle, Jimmy Will and Smith shared their appreciation for the steps taken by the Governor and Ohio House in putting money toward indigent defense.

“This board applauds and sincerely thanks Governor DeWine for listening to county budgetary concerns and addressing indigent defense costs with his historic and impactful investment included in his introduced budget. … This board deeply appreciates and sincerely thanks the Ohio House of Representatives for further increasing the indigent defense appropriation by $35 million in SFY21 which should fully reimburse the counties for their indigent defense costs, assuming current conditions,” reads the resolution in part.

The resolution concludes by asking the Ohio Senate to “maintain the House of Representatives’ appropriation for indigent defense reimbursement in the state budget bill to ensure that this state mandate remains funded.”

The deadline for the final version of the state budget to be approved by the House and Senate to be sent to the governor is June 30.

By Sarah Hawley

Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.

Sarah Hawley is the managing editor of The Daily Sentinel.