In the face of the shortfall in funds for the state’s public defense system, at least one Minnesota county has already taken the step of digging into its own pockets to cover the shortfall.
Yellow Medicine County commissioners said yesterday that the county will be paying the legal costs when court-appointed attorneys are needed in cases involving children protection or the termination of parental rights.
Yesterday was the day when public defenders were due to stop taking those cases. The public defender’s office for the Eighth Judicial District will no longer accept appointments to represent parents in these cases, District Judge Bruce Christopherson told the Yellow Medicine County board. The public defender’s office will also terminate its representation in current cases that have been admitted to trial.
The county will be charged the district’s going rate of $75 an hour for the legal help. County Attorney Keith Helgeson said that thanks to efforts by social services, the county is seeing a reduction in the number of situations requiring court intervention, according to Helgeson.
Hats off to Yellow Medicine county (which lost 1.5 fulltime-equivalent public defenders, or about 10 percent of the department’s workforce) for stretching other resources to help parents involved in CHIPS and TPR proceedings, but the unpredictable nature of demand for public defense means that it and other counties might have to dig even deeper in the future.