State Aid

County Public Defender’s Office To Double Staff

Right, Nathaniel Barone, county public defender, discusses the $15 million grant the Public Defender's Office will be receiving from the Office of Indigent Legal Services with the Chautauqua County Legislature Public Safety Committee in Mayville Wednesday. P-J photo by Dennis Phillips

MAYVILLE — The public defender’s staff is about to double thanks to a $15 million state grant.

On Wednesday, Nathaniel Barone, county public defender, discussed with the Chautauqua County Legislature Public Safety Committee the $15,539,475 grant county officials will receive from the state Office of Indigent Legal Services. The grant is effective from April 1, 2018, through March 31, 2023.

Barone said the grant will completely reimburse all county costs associated with the representation of the indigent, which solves financial problems the Public Defender’s Office has experiences in the past.

“We have to have the manpower to effectively represent people,” he said.

The Public Defender’s Office handles more than 7,000 cases a year, with a staff of 10 full-time attorneys, Barone said. Because of the grant, he said the number of attorneys in the office will increase to 18-20.

Barone said currently each attorney in the office is handling between 200 to 350 felony cases. He said according to state officials, the attorneys should only be handling around 150 felony cases a year.

Chautauqua County Legislator Daniel Pavlock, R-Sinclairville, asked if there will be enough lawyers in the county to double the number of attorneys in the Public Defender’s Office.

Barone said that he attended a job fair a couple months ago at University of Buffalo Law School and met quite a few people from out of state and originally from Chautauqua County who are working elsewhere in the state. He said specifically he talked to seven attorneys originally from the county who left the area, but now would have an opportunity to return. He added that he has never had a problem hiring attorneys who live in the county.

Because of the grant, Barone said salaries will now be increased for attorneys in the office, which makes the position more competitive. He said they might experience more people leaving private practice because of the more competitive salaries, which makes it an appealing job when you add in the retirement and health care benefits county employees receive.

Along with the increase in the number of attorneys, Barone said they will also be able to increase the office’s clerical staff from four to seven. He said they will also be adding two more investigators as well. He added that when the grant expires in 2023, county officials are under no obligation to retain all the of the additional staff.

“Overall, it’s transformative,” Barone said about the grant.

Along with additional staff, Barone will be able to add new office space in Jamestown and Dunkirk because of the funding the Office of Indigent Legal Services is providing. The committee also discussed a proposal for the Public Defender’s Office to lease 1,121 square feet of office space for $1,900 a month, which includes utilities and parking, from Lynn Development at the Lynn Building in Jamestown. Barone said 60 to 70 percent of the office’s caseload is in Jamestown.

“We need an actual effective working presence,” he said.

Barone said the space they will be leasing is located across the street from the city Municipal Building where city court is held, which is convenient for the attorneys and their clients. He said Lynn Development is renovating the office space to their specifications. He added two assistant public defenders and clerical staff will be located in the office. Barone said staff could moving into the new office by mid to late April.

The grant for new office space will also go toward new space in Dunkirk as well. Barone said they are looking into leasing space at the Stearns Building.

The grant from the state Office of Indigent Legal Services is from a lawsuit known as the Hurrell-Harring Settlement Act that was brought against five New York state counties in Central New York for ineffective representation of the indigent.

The Chautauqua County Legislature is slated to vote on accepting the grant from the Office of Indigent Legal Services and for the new office space in Jamestown for the Public Defender’s Office at its next meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday on the third floor of the Gerace Office Building in Mayville.