:: Argus Leader Media | Murder cases stress public defender staff, budget ::

Murder cases stress public defender staff, budget

Minnehaha County might need more money
By Jill Callison
Published: April 8, 2007

Public Defender.jpgMinnehaha County’s public defenders, coming off a year in which they had six murder and manslaughter cases at one time, could face a similar workload this year.

That has lawyers in the office worried about heavy workloads, strained budgets and their ability to meet future needs. The underlying concern facing commissioners who oversee county spending is that people charged with crimes but unable to afford a lawyer on their own may be assigned a public defender who doesn’t have the time to do top-quality work.

Three of the public defenders are involved in the high-profile murder case involving Daphne Wright. That case, which resumes Monday, has already eaten up more than one-third of the public defenders’ 2007 budget for interpreters. Wright is deaf, and three interpreters have been hired to work each day the trial takes place, court administrator Karl Thoennes said. “That costs $1,300 a day,” he said.

Another murder case, for a defendant charged with deliberately running over a man in the Western Mall parking lot, is pending.

New resources, however, aren’t guaranteed.

County officials note they have ramped up spending on the public defenders’ office in recent years, increasing it along with the county’s population surge and keeping its budget in line with similar offices in other mid-size Midwest cities.

What’s more, a big reason the public defenders’ office is handling more cases is that it has more lawyers than ever before, county officials point out. Continue

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