Outsourcing eyed as way to save attorney expenses

Mary Perham

Steuben County officials expect to take a closer look at whether they can save money outsourcing some public defense cases.

This year, the cost of paying enough attorneys to fairly defend the interest of low-income defendants has jumped, with county Office of Conflicts Attorney David Wallace requesting an additional $150,000 for the remainder of the year.

Wallace’s office was budgeted $450,000 for 2012.

The cost stems from the state requirement for Steuben to provide outside counsel for low-income defendants in the event of multiple conflicts of interest.

An example of multiple conflicts is a divorce with custody issues, or a criminal case with multiple defendants. In those instances, the county Public Defender and the county Office of Conflicts take two cases, with the remainder assigned to private attorneys.

The private attorneys are paid $75 per hour, according to the state mandate, although New York does not provide any funding for local defense.

County Public Defender Philip Roche told the county Legislature’s Public Safety and Corrections Committee Monday there are safeguards to prevent private attorneys overbilling Steuben.

Private attorneys must document the time they spend in defending cases, and their fees must be approved by both Wallace and the presiding judge, he said.

While some counties hire an outside firm to handle excess conflicts, it’s unclear whether that would save the county any money, Roche said.

Roche said he expects to report any cost-saving options to the committee early next year.