A Dayton Daily News article this past weekend reported an Ohio working group consisting of representatives from several state offices, the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, Ohio State Bar Association and the Ohio Judicial Conference considering changes in how defense lawyers are provided for the poor, having drafted a proposal that would shift the financial responsibility of indigent defense from counties to the state over a five-year period.
The group, according to the article, has been meeting for several years to consider possible changes to an indigent defense system set up in the 1970s under which counties arrange and pay for lawyers for poor defendants and are then partially reimbursed by the state. “Counties, however, were reimbursed at a rate of about 35 percent by the state last year but had been promised a 50 percent rate when the system was created.”
Ohio Public Defender Tim Young was quoted as stating that “when you have the state of Ohio law being enforced and defended in 88 different ways in the counties ... you end up with huge disparities in cost, quality and efficiency. Under the proposal, the counties still could choose how they provided representation for indigent people, such as using a county public defender's office, court-appointed lawyers, contracts with the state or a combination of those models, but the state public defender's office oversee the system through regional offices & be writing the whole check.” (See Ohio Public Defender’s breakdown of County Indigent Defense Systems )
The Ohio Supreme Court’s Task Force on Pro Se & Indigent Litigants, back in April 2006, opined that “the system of providing counsel to indigent criminal defendants was inefficient, ineffective, and in need of significant improvements. Recommendations of that task force – noting that a similar venture was undertaken in 1992 under then-Justice Craig Wright making many of the same recommendations -- “required modification of the current system by making the Ohio Public Defender Commission an independent entity within the judicial branch of government and implementing local indigent representation commissions to oversee the provision of indigent criminal legal services.” A paramount concern of that task force was also to ensure provision of adequate funding to fully implement its recommendations. ( Task Force Report )
While the Daily News’ article says the present proposal hasn’t been submitted to the General Assembly as of yet, House Bill 49, introduced back in January 2011, would have provided that “specified fees, costs, and fines that currently are deposited into the state treasury to the credit of funds that help pay for the defense of indigent criminal defendants be deposited instead into the municipal treasury to help compensate counsel appointed by the court to represent indigent defendants if the court that imposed the fees, costs, or fines is a municipal court that is not a county‐operated municipal court and that appoints counsel for indigent defendants in a manner other than that provided for in a specified provision of the Revised Code…” The bill had an single hearing in front of the House Judiciary & Ethics Committee last year.