Thursday, February 7, 2013
The issue of whether to pay for a public defender will go to the full Summerville Town Council next week.
Council’s public safety committee recommended Wednesday the town pay for public defenders on a case-by-case basis, but it left unanswered how much it would pay for each case.
Councilman Bill McIntosh said there’s a glut of young, eager lawyers in the Charleston area who want trial experience and would probably volunteer to defend indigent clients for a reduced fee.
That fee would be somewhere south of $1,000, he said, but whether it might be $500 or $250 he wasn’t sure.
After First Circuit Public Defender Mark Leiendecker made a presentation to council saying the town should have a public defender in its municipal court to comply with U.S. Supreme Court rulings, Town Council asked the county to pay for a public defender.
The county refused, leaving the town to decide what to do next.
Councilman Walter Bailey said Summerville has three choices: do nothing, hire a public defender, or pay attorneys on a case-by-case basis.
Doing nothing isn’t really an option, Bailey and McIntosh said, because the town could be sued if someone were to ask for a public defender and be refused because the town doesn’t have one.
McIntosh said he doubts that’s ever happened. Nonetheless, no one seems to have a good idea of how often a public defender would be required, he said.
“If it’s not that frequent, the last thing we should do is pay half of someone’s salary and benefits,” he said.
Bailey said conducting a trial for six months would give the town an idea of how often the public defender is needed.