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County may non-renew state defenders

Courts have month to set up new system

WARREN — Trumbull County Commissioners are considering not renewing the county’s contract with the Ohio Public Defender’s Office, according to a letter from Ohio Public Defender Tim Young sent to judges and other key players.

The letter states that after months of negotiation, Trumbull County special projects coordinator James Misocky informed Young’s office on Wednesday that commissioners will not be renewing the contract and instead “plan to move to an appointed counsel system for all county and municipal courts beginning July 1.”

According to the letter, the current contract provides indigent defense counsel in all of the courts of Trumbull County, totaling approximately 6,000 cases each year. The contract expires on June 30, leaving all county and municipal courts in Trumbull County with one month to set up and transition to an appointed counsel system.

Young states in the letter he believes this is not enough time to properly implement a new system and will likely add $500,000 over the cost of the services provided by the OPD.

Commissioners Mauro Cantalemessa and Dan Polivka both said Friday the decision is not a done deal.

“There has been talk back and forth,” Cantalemessa said. ” We are exploring options and getting input from the judges.”

According to the letter, the OPD has offered some options for the commissioners to consider outside of renewing the contract. These include:

• Renewing the contract for an entire year or six months so the county “can plan for and make decisions about alternatives in an extended time frame to ensure there are no disruption to client services.”

• Renew a limited service contract in which the OPD would eliminate the General Division of the Common Pleas Court from the service agreement and continue to provide services in the municipal courts and juvenile court. “This alternative is offered as it is OPD’s understanding that the Common Pleas Court has expressed dissatisfaction with a recent personnel decision the OPD made in our Trumbull County Office, and this is part of the reason why the Trumbull County commissioners do not wish to renew the contract with OPD,” the letter states.

Cantalemessa said this discussion has been going on for at least a few weeks and the commissioners want to keep all options on the table. They plan to discuss this further at Tuesday’s workshop and at Wednesday’s regular commissioners meeting.

Young’s letter states the OPD needs to know by June 7 if the county wishes to continue its contract.

“OPD employs eight full-time employees, including five union employees, and 17 contractors under the current Trumbull County contract. Based upon the information we received Wednesday, we must plan to move forward with laying off staff, closing OPD’s operations in Trumbull County, so we would need notice in the immediate future if that plan needed to change,” the letter states.

If commissioners decide to go with an appointed counsel system, Young states “all future cases will need to be individually screened for indigency by each court, and individually assigned to appointed counsel. After disposition in each case, appointed counsel must submit a fee bill for each and every case to the appointing judge who would then need to review and certify the bill and send it to the auditor. The auditor would issue a warrant payment on each bill. Given the volume of bills is expected to be 500 per month, this also will likely require the addition of staff in the auditor’s office.”

bshiller@tribtoday.com

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