YORK – While the York County Commissioners say they fully understand the county’s role in paying for indigent defendants’ legal fees, when the public defender’s office can’t due to conflict of interest, they still remain concerned about certain attorneys holding the full bills until a case is closed – which means the county has to face sudden, unexpected large bills.
Earlier this year, they called these types of bills “budget busters” because a more than $40,000 bill arrived which they didn’t know was coming, for indigent defense costs from one attorney. They asked that attorneys doing public defense periodically bill the county, as cases go along, so they aren’t faced with very large bills at once (at the end of a case) because of the ebb and flow of revenue into the county.
The county has certain times of year when revenue is coming in and other times when it isn’t – based on property tax payments.
While a certain amount might be budgeted for indigent defense costs, it still remains an unforeseen expense. And when large attorney fees arrive, they tend to be a surprise. It’s particularly a conundrum when the county is not taking in large amounts of revenue.
This month was again the case.
“This week, we received a couple of sizeable attorney claims, which sure bulge the monthly bills,” said Commissioner Woody Ziegler as the board examined the claims for this week. “We have one for $18,000 and another for $26,000. When you look at the fact we got other bills, from other attorneys, for $3,000 and $8,000, you would think (the other attorney) could balance out their bill submissions better.”
Recently, the commissioners met with State Senator Jana Hughes to talk about the situation, suggesting maybe the state could create some sort of legislation requiring defense attorneys to submit their bills gradually as cases go along, rather than wait until the case is closed and the ending bill is so large.
“We asked for cooperation from the defense attorneys and we asked senators,” said Commissioner Randy Obermier. “Yes, when we get huge bills like this all of sudden, it is a budget buster.”
“And it’s especially a checkbook buster when they hit at the wrong time,” said Commissioner Daniel Grotz, in reference to the ebb and flow of revenue into the county coffers.
“Well, we will continue to speak out against it and push for a change in how they are submitted,” Obermier said. “But we are still obligated by law to pay for them when they arrive.”
The county board paid the claims and said they will continue to pursue some sort of change in submissions.