Speeding tix could go up $12.50

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lawyers employed by the state to defend indigent people in court might have to consult with their clients on the Courthouse steps or at restaurants if state funding is cut, Marshall County commissioners were told this week.

"The state budget is pretty bad this year," Public Defender Donna Hargrove told the County Budget Committee on Wednesday night. "I have to prepare for the worst case scenario," and that might mean closing two of her offices.

Without offices in Shelbyville or Fayetteville, some defense attorneys might have to be working "out of their cars," Hargrove said.

To be prepared for the loss of state revenue, Hargrove is asking the County Commission to use provisions in state law to raise money for her office.

As a result, the cost of speeding tickets, other misdemeanors and felonies will go up by $12.50 in a couple of months if the commissioners adopt a resolution that's now supported by the Budget Committee.

The 2002 law that Hargrove wants the Commission to use has been in effect elsewhere in the state.

Hargrove's office on First Avenue North will remain open, but some of her assistant public defenders have been working from the other offices.

The $12.50 added to the cost of moving traffic violations and felony court costs is not a tax, Hargrove said. It's a use fee.

She employs six assistant public defenders, several secretaries and investigators.

At times, the Public Defender's Office realizes it has a conflict of interest and as a result a defense attorney with Hargrove would ask a judge to permit that office to withdraw. When that happens, other attorneys in the judicial district can be appointed to represent the defendant. Those private practice attorneys then file bills with the court for payment from the state.

The Lincoln County Commission has adopted the resolution so tickets and felonies in that county will cost more, Hargrove said. She will be consulting with Bedford County commissioners soon. She plans to meet with Moore County officials, but indicated the sparcely-populated county "meets on its own time frame."

Violations such as a broken headlight won't be affected by the proposed fee, Hargrove said.

"When could we expect this to end?" Commissioner Jimmy Wolaver asked.

Commission Chairwoman Mary Ann Neill replied, "It would run with us," meaning the Commission could vote later to rescind the fee if the money is no longer needed.

The commission must adopt the resolution for the fee by a two-thirds margin, and that vote is scheduled for Monday when the Commission meets at 6 p.m. in the County Courthouse Annex on the Lewisburg public square.