Brown County formally requests Governor’s help in shortage of public defenders

County leaders, frustrated by the backlog of cases, issued a resolution
Published: Aug. 19, 2021 at 10:05 PM CDT
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GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - Leaders in Brown County say they’ve exhausted all efforts and are now calling on the Governor to use federal funds to solve a public defender shortage.

As we’ve reported, the shortage has been causing a backlog of cases for months, including for those suspected of violent crimes. The pandemic also made the situation worse as criminal hearings went virtual and courthouses restricted visitations.

Defendants in the county are continuing to have trouble finding public defenders.

“If these people end up getting released because they cannot get through the system, it’s a public safety risk,” Brown County Board of Supervisors Chairman Patrick Buckley said.

The board of supervisors approved a resolution Wednesday addressing the lack of attorneys in the State Public Defender’s Office. The agency appoints lawyers to defendants who can’t afford one and its Green Bay office represents clients in Brown, Door, and Kewaunee counties.

Buckley blamed Governor Tony Evers for not increasing the funding for the agency in the state’s latest budget. However, the Democratic governor signed a Republican-backed budget since the GOP controls the legislator.

In a bipartisan showing, area lawmakers sent letters to the governor requesting funds from the American Rescue Plan to clear the backlog of cases. More than 300 defendants in Brown County are waiting for a public defender, according to the county.

The issue is reportedly putting a strain on the county budget since inmates have to be kept in jail longer.

“They need to increase what they’re paying the contract attorney’s,” Buckley said. “They also need to increase the amount of attorneys that they’re actually employing as a state to handle these cases.”

The State Public Defender’s Office pays attorney’s $70 an hour per case. If a lawyer can’t be found in a reasonable time, the county is forced to find one at a rate of $100 an hour, which comes from the county’s budget not the state.

”Because they’re entitled to a speedy trial, you know, potentially the [Brown County Circuit Court Judges] can hire attorneys for them at Brown County’s cost, and that’s a 100 bucks an hour,” Buckley said.

The State Public Defender told county leaders earlier this month its Green Bay office had a shortage of attorneys up until recently. It is now fully staffed at 14, yet is still having trouble keeping up with the caseload.

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