Pauper counsel can be costly


Paying the bills for pauper counsel in one significant case can be costly.

The Dubois County Commissioners found that out Monday morning as they looked through the county’s claims.

President Chad Blessinger questioned two large claims from Dubois Circuit Court, each of which cost more than $30,000. He was surprised at large costs, thinking that it was for one or two months of work.

When the claims were brought in for review, the commissioners learned that they were the public defender costs in the Sarah K. Andry case that was completed in October with her sentence. They also found out that the claims were for almost a year’s worth of work.

“Sometimes you can’t bill until you’re done with the case,” County Attorney Greg Schnarr told the commissioners.

Andry was found guilty in September of aiding murder and aggravated battery in the July 2017 death of Darin L. Atkins.

The claims were for work Andry’s attorneys did between November 2019 and the end of the case. One claim was from Rockport attorney Jerry Garner, for $31,500; the other one, $32,634.90, was from Jasper attorney Gerald Thom. Blessinger noted that Thom logged 358 hours of work in that timespan.

Everyone has a right to legal representation in court. When someone cannot afford that representation, the court must assign an attorney to the case. That cost comes from the courts’ budget. The claims reviewed Monday showed an example of how expensive the cost can be.

The increasing costs for pauper counsel have been discussed in past years.

Both Superior and Circuit courts have run out of money in their pauper budgets in past years and had to get additional funding from the county. In 2019, Dubois Circuit Judge Nathan Verkamp told county officials that his pauper budget would take a significant hit because of upcoming cases, such as Andry’s.

Each court has a pauper counsel budget and pauper counsel appeal budget. The courts increased those budgets some for 2021; those were approved by the Dubois County Council.

Circuit Court’s pauper counsel budget increased from 2020’s $11,346 to 2021’s $150,000; Superior Court’s budget stayed the same, at $11,346.

Superior Court’s paper counsel appeals budget doubled, from 2020’s $30,000 to 2021’s $60,000. Circuit Court’s budget stayed the same but is larger than Superior Court’s, at $150,000. Circuit court tends to get the serious offense trials, like murder. If the defendant is found guilty, those cases tend to be appealed.

The commissioners also:

• Extended the disaster declaration to Feb. 1, the same date as the commissioners’ first meeting in February.

• Reorganized its board. Blessinger was elected president and Commissioner Nick Hostetter vice president.

• Heard a reminder from Street Superintendent Steve Berg that the county’s freeze-thaw ordinance will go into effect on Friday, Jan. 15. During that time period, county roads will have a 10-ton weight limit. Vehicles that have a reason to be on a particular county road, like delivery trucks, can still use the roads. The ordinance will be in effect until Thursday, April 15.

• Held a public hearing, at which no one from the public commented, for the county’s technology grant application to the Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs. The county is partnering with Southern Indiana Resource Solutions, known as SIRS, to get a grant up to $200,000 to cover the costs of expanding access to technology to people with disabilities. That would include having hotspots in rural and remote areas, an accessible workstation at SIRS’ Jasper office, creating a lending library of electronic tablets, and creating a network through which people could connect to and get help from others in the community for tasks like running errands. Kelly Mitchell, CEO/president of SIRS, noted that some of these services, the hotspots in particular, could be used by anyone, which would be an additional benefit to the county. Jenny Matheis of Indiana 15 Regional Planning Commission said the application will be submitted before the Jan. 10 deadline, and the awards are to be announced April 1.

• Planned to retain Dentons Bingham Greenebaum to represent the county’s interest in the White Stallion bankruptcy matter. White Stallion is the parent company of Solar Sources, the mining company that has been working along County Road 800 West. Solar Sources has paid the first installment of the cost it was sharing with the county for road work, and the county holds a bond that could help with the rest of the cost. Dentons Bingham Greenebaum will represent the county’s interest in the matter. The commissioners limited the cost of services to $9,500.

• Appointed Ben Schwenk to the Dubois County Airport Authority Board. He will complete the last two years of Bob Johnson’s term. Johnson resigned because he was moving out of the area.

• Approved an agreement to share GIS information with the Crawford County School Corporation. The school district made the request to help with planning for its school bus routes; some of the routes go into the eastern side of Dubois County, Schnarr said.

• Met as the county drainage board and vacated a ditch that used to run along Second Street in Jasper. County Surveyor Kenny Brosmer recommended the vacation, as the ditch has been gone for decades. The board also selected Blessinger as president, Commissioner Elmer Brames as vice president and County Auditor Sandy Morton as secretary.

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