Who Really Deserves A Public Defender? - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

08/20/04

Who Really Deserves A Public Defender?

It will be next month before the 21 people charged with dog fighting in Hancock County find out if they will be represented by public defenders.

Judge Kosta Vlahos is hearing the case. 

"I had 21 of 'em all lined up there and they all wanted a court appointed attorney but yet they had made bond," he says.

 Bond is one thing judges consider when a defendant fills out a form asking for a public defender.

The judge wants to know the defendant's income, assets and liabilities. 

"And we review that sworn petition and make a determination based on that information whether they're able financially to employ counsel or someone on their behalf may be able to hire counsel or whether the county has to absorb the cost and appoint 'em a lawyer," says Judge Steve Simpson.

 Harrison County spends about half a million dollars a year to employ attorneys like Jack Denton to represent poor clients. 

To help defray those costs the senior circuit judge orders defendants who are able, to pay something back to the county. 

"If I make a determination that they don't have enough funds to go out there and retain an attorney but they have some funds available, I order that they pay 60, 120, or some instances $200 dependin' on what income they have, I order them to pay," says Vlahos.

 Denton is one of 18 lawyers in Harrison County's criminal defender program.

He says some defendants get court appointed attorneys who don't deserve them. 

"The system is not perfect. I mean I don't know any that would be in any arena. There's room for improvement and we're always those of us who work in the system are always lookin' for ways to make it more efficient and do a better job at what we do," Denton says. 

He says there are abuses in the public defender system, but he says nine times out of ten, a person who gets a public defender really needs one.

By:Marcia Hill

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