During the last year of the previous system, indigent defense cost Walker County $261,000. The newest budget for the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit public defender’s office is $164,608.
David Dunn, the circuit’s public defender, said if indigent defense was still under the old system, where each case cost an average $500, the county would have spent $181,000 in the past five months.
“The program is working and we are saving money,” Dunn said. “It is our goal to provide our clients with legal services that are as good, or better than, the services afforded by private counsel.”
Depending on how far a case goes in the legal system, it could cost anywhere from a minimum of $300, to over $1,000 if it goes to a jury, Dunn said.
Dunn’s works mostly out of his downtown LaFayette office at the corner of East Villanow and Duke streets.
He overseas a staff of six other attorneys who have been handling cases since Jan. 1. As of June 9, Dunn’s office opened 1,100 cases throughout the whole circuit, which includes Walker, Catoosa, Chattooga and Dade counties.
The public defender program for the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit serves Walker, Catoosa, Dade and Chattooga counties. The program has offices in LaFayette, Ringgold, Trenton and Summerville.
* Hours: Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to noon and 1-4:30 p.m.
* Phone: (706) 638-3290
* The public defender’s office was created under the 2003 Indigent Defense Act by the Georgia General Assembly and opened locally on Jan. 1.
* The office handles cases for indigent people in superior and juvenile courts.
In Walker, 362 new cases is the second highest of the four counties, behind Catoosa’s 392.
Dunn said many of the arrests throughout the circuit are for drugs. The highest amount of the case types he deals with are for drug charges, he said.
“While my reports do not break down between methamphetamine and other drugs, we have 313 new felony drug cases since Jan.1,” he said.
Superior courts in the circuit are working through a major backlog, so some defendants still have defense representation through the old public defender system.
Those charged with a crime before Jan. 1 will still be under the county’s responsibility of paying for a court-appointed attorney for indigent defense.
“We are giving better attention and service,” Dunn said. “We visit the jail almost daily and typically meet with potential clients within 24 hours of their arrest.”
To qualify for indigent defense, a person must fill out a two-page application and pay a $50 application fee within 30 days.
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