Defense lawyers given pay hike by county |

Defense lawyers given pay hike by county

by Jeff Munson

A month after asking for a judicial caseload review, Douglas County commissioners agreed to give publicly-paid defense attorneys a five-year contract with a 5 percent increase.

The increase came after commissioners asked for a review as part of an overall county department budgetary review. The contract is for $317,520 a year, to be split between the three attorneys.

The money doesn’t include additional staffing, utilities, transportation or office supplies. The attorneys were making $100,800 annually, for a total of $302,400. They represent people who can’t afford to hire their own attorneys.

At their April 5 meeting, commissioners asked for more information on the number of cases that have gone through the courts which required a court-appointed attorney and how many cases have gone to trial since the last budget increase.

District Judge Dave Gamble presented the board with an overview including letters from the public defenders which detailed their caseloads. Gamble confirmed the number of cases in Douglas County has increased since the last review.

The increase was established in the five-year contract, with a 5 percent increase in each of the first two years and 3 percent each of the following three years. The pay schedule was negotiated by Gamble, Judge Michael Gibbons and the attorneys, Terri Roeser, Nathan Tod Young and Derrick Lopez.

Roeser said 80 to 85 percent of her workweek is devoted to county contract cases, and she handles 250 to 300 cases a year.

At its April 5 meeting, the commission said it wanted to know how much time attorneys spend doing work for the county and how much work goes into their private practice.

Gamble told commissioners he has good faith in the attorneys and said they do their job with professionalism.

In a letter to Gamble, Roeser said county business is her priority.

“While we are permitted to engage in private practice, my practice is limited to family law matters and other retained criminal cases,” Roeser wrote. “The majority of my time working on retained cases takes place for the most part in the evenings or on weekends because the contract does not permit much time during the week.”

Young said his contract work with the county consumes between 30-35 hours a week and the increase is needed because the cost of business has increased.

“While expenses for office staff, supplies, travel and rent have increased, the financial return on the contract has not,” Young wrote in a letter to Gamble. “Now it must in order for this mutually beneficial arrangement to continue.”

Young said the county is fortunate to have three qualified, professional attorneys experienced in legal matters. He said their experience saves the county money in the long run.

“The experience and talent we bring to the courtroom and negotiating table are routinely reflected in the extremely low rate of cases where the county bears the expenses associated with appeals and post-conviction petitions alleging ineffective assistance of counsel,” he wrote.

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