Madison County Mulling Contract Labor For Defense Attorneys

MADISON – The cost of defending those accused of crimes is high – and possibly getting higher, and now one county is looking into finding new ways to pay for it.

The Madison County Commissioners spoke with County Attorney Joe Smith during their bi-weekly meeting on Tuesday. Smith estimated that in 2017, Madison County has paid out around $400,000 to defense attorneys who have to be appointed by the court system due to conflicts of interest with the public defender’s office, and the price of appointments might be going up.

“I know the local lawyers met with the judges about a week ago,” Smith told the Commissioners. “The request was to raise the court appointed fees from $75/hour to $100.”

Smith said the decision to bump up attorney fees from $75 to $100 an hour would ultimately rest with the court judges and not with the Commissioners, but the Commissioners are the ones that would have to pay for it.

Facing the possibility of over half-a-million dollars in costs associated with defense attorneys, Smith says the county could get creative, by contracting out all conflict-of-interest cases.

“Somebody would have to give you a proposal that says, ‘I’m a defense lawyer and I can handle this for so much money a year and whatever else,” Smith said. “Then you sit down and study it.”

Contracting with one attorney’s office to handle all conflict-of-interest cases would make Madison unique in Nebraska, as most counties that contract out for defense attorneys do so because they don’t have a public defender, not because they’re looking at cost savings.

The Commissioners ultimately decided to hold off on any decision until they can gather input from area attorneys and judges. They’ve scheduled a hearing on the matter for their first meeting in January.