The Tippecanoe County Council will consider adding positions to the Public Defender’s office to counter rising costs in the county’s juvenile court.
To deal with an influx of cases over the past few years, the juvenile court has hired local lawyers to represent clients. When all local attorneys had been tapped, Judge Faith Graham says the court went to surrounding counties.
Now, she says, it may be more cost effective to add part-timers to the public defender’s office – as the cost of hiring attorneys, and number of complicated cases, keep rising.
“We’ve brainstormed a number of options and these are only preliminary discussions that we are approaching that point that we might need to do something else in order to control future expenses,” Graham says.
Lawyers are limited in how many cases they can take on at a time, and the hourly rate for a drafted attorney is about $90 an hour. The county is reimbursed 40-percent of those expenses.
The proposal was part of the county’s 2018 budget hearing Tuesday. This year, the juvenile court already exceeded its budget once.
The court oversees juvenile delinquency, termination of parental rights and Children in Need of Services cases, among other related issues.
Graham said for the past few years, the number of incoming cases has been increasing disproportionately to cases closed. She says attorneys have also been spending more time on cases than before.
“The issues are a lot more complicated with the increase of substance use problems in our community and the opioid epidemic,” Graham says. “That is causing a great deal of families to become involved in the child welfare system.”
Add to that an increased hourly rate for the lawyers the court has had to hire to represent clients and Graham says the court has had to consider other options – such as taking on eight part-time, salaried lawyers.
The county budget is set to be finalized in October.