- Associated Press - Thursday, August 4, 2016

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - All but one county in Idaho has applied for additional state money to help pay public defenders.

The Idaho Public Defense Commission on Tuesday met to discuss how to split the $5.4 million in new funding made available by the Legislature for public defenders, The Idaho Press-Tribune reported (https://bit.ly/2b5nO0w). Previously public defense offices have only been funded by county commissions.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho sued the state in June 2015 contending that state officials have known for years that Idaho’s public defense system was broken and prevented defendants from receiving adequate legal representation guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit requested a state judge to order Idaho’s elected officials to implement and fund a better system. The judge dismissed the suit in January saying that violated the separation of powers between the branches of government.

Idaho lawmakers designated the funds earlier this year to improve how the state provides legal representation to those who can’t afford their own attorney.

Kimberly Simmons, executive director for the Idaho Public Defense Commission, said Benewah County is the only county that did not apply for the grant as county commissioners feared there would be strings attached to the funding.

Among the 43 other counties that did ask for funding, Canyon County requested as much as $500,000. Canyon County Chief Public Defender Tera Harden has told the Canyon County Board of Commissioners repeatedly that she needs more funding to appropriately serve her office’s high caseload.

Of the $5.4 million allotted for the Defense Commission, about $4.3 million will be for grants to offset the costs of complying to standards of defense for indigent people. The rest of the funds will be used for personnel costs, operating expenditures, extraordinary litigation and setting state public defense standards.

Simmons said if the state were to allot each applying county the maximum amount of money it requested or is eligible for, it would cost about $3.6 million, which is within the commission’s budget. By state law, counties will not be allotted more than 15 percent of the county’s past average budget for public defense, or $25,000, whichever amount is greater.

Simmons says Canyon County’s request for $500,000 to help hire attorneys and support staff is more than allowed by state statute.

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Information from: Idaho Press-Tribune, https://www.idahopress.com

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