P.C. Commissioners switch conflict public defender contract to hourly rate

by Daniel Moore
Press Staff Writer

The Power County Commissioners decided in their meeting on Monday, Dec. 19, to opt-out of the contract with Power County conflict public defender Abe Luca. Luca is one of several conflict public defenders the county uses when a conflict arises with the regular public defender, but is the only one under contract with the county.

It was financially beneficial for the county to have a conflict public defender under contract, said Bill Lasley, a Power County commissioner. The commissioners had just renewed Luca’s contract in October. However, with litigation a possibility and with a likely change in state policy regarding public defense contracts, the county made Luca’s position paid by the hour. The change was out of fairness, Lasley said.

“It was cheaper for us to stay with a flat rate contract with Abe, but other attorneys are paid an hourly rate,” Lasley said.

A lawsuit against the state by the Idaho chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has made counties wary of hiring public defenders by contracts. The threat of a lawsuit made them decide to opt-out of Luca’s contract, said Ron Funk, Power County commissioner.

“We decided that since the ACLU has put us on their radar screen, we needed to go a different route,” Funk said.

The ACLU argued that paying public defenders by contract makes public defenders spend an inadequate amount of time defending their clients. In reaction to the lawsuit, many counties are hiring public defenders as full-time, dedicated positions.

The county recently hired Michael Morrissey, a Pocatello attorney, to serve as Power and Oneida County’s regular public defender. Before the county hired Morrissey, the county would contract with Robert Eldredge for public defense services. The counties pays public defenders to represent those who are accused for crimes and cannot afford their own attorney…

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