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Facing Crisis, Defenders Grateful for Funding in Newly Enacted Budget Though Challenges Remain

In his budget address in January, Governor Bevin asked the legislature to make investments in public safety with additional funding for law enforcement, prosecutors, and public defenders.  Adopting the Governor’s recommendations, the General Assembly’s recently enacted biennial budget includes increases in funding for the Kentucky State Police, Commonwealth Attorneys, County Attorneys, and the Department of Public Advocacy (“DPA”).  Public defenders are grateful that Kentucky leaders have recognized the need to invest in public safety, including indigent defense, during this difficult time.

Kentucky public defenders have been underfunded for many years.  This chronic underfunding has culminated in a crisis in the current fiscal year.  To meet the requirements of court-ordered appointments, DPA has been operating with a deficit for most of the biennium.  Just after the start of this fiscal year, DPA implemented a hiring freeze to address the deficit. Caseloads spiked with some offices averaging more than 900 new case assignments per attorney.  Such workloads are more than triple the national standards.  At the same time, DPA cut other expenses, including training, travel, and office resources.  Despite cutting expenses and having more than three dozen vacant positions, DPA projected a nearly $4 million budget deficit for FY18.  Without funding assistance, DPA would be out of resources to survive the fiscal year and unable meet court-ordered and constitutional responsibilities.

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Department of Public Advocacy
Justice & Public Safety Cabinet 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Cara Lane Cape
502-564-8006
caral.cape@ky.gov

Public Defenders Seek Support for Gov. Bevin’s Funding Proposal
Kentucky Public Advocate informs House budget subcommittee of dire funding needs

FRANKFORT, Ky. (Feb. 6, 2018) - Public Advocate Damon Preston appeared before the House Budget Review Subcommittee on Justice, Public Safety, and the Judiciary today to explain the needs of Kentucky public defenders in the next biennium.  He asked that the subcommittee accept and endorse the additional Department of Public Advocacy (DPA) funding in Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed budget.

Preston began his presentation by thanking the governor, State Budget Director John Chilton, Justice and Public Safety Secretary John Tilley, and others for their careful consideration of the department’s challenges and their support for increased defender funding during these very difficult fiscal times.  He argued that the fact that the public defender budget was increased while so many other important agencies were cut demonstrates the dire condition of defender funding and Gov. Bevin’s commitment to improving public safety.

“The Department of Public Advocacy’s existing budget is insufficient for the work that we are court-ordered and ethically, statutorily, and constitutionally required to do,” Preston told the subcommittee members. "The governor’s budget proposal provides stability to continue our work and a little bit of progress towards serving the Commonwealth and our clients as they need to be served.” 

According to the department’s Annual Litigation Report, the average trial attorney caseload in fiscal year 2017 included 459 new case assignments, a caseload volume 55 percent above national standards.  Even at this excessive level, this reported average was artificially low, Preston explained, because it was based on DPA being fully staffed and DPA has not been adequately funded to maintain full staffing.  

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