Gage County Board Holds Off, on New Public Defense Contract
BEATRICE – The Gage County Board has postponed action on a new public defender contract, over some misgivings about the size of the increase in the three-year proposal.
Gage County Public Defender Lee Timan submitted a plan that calls for an annual compensation of $165,000 per year, over the three years.
County Board Chairman Erich Tiemann says the increase the first year is $16,000, compared with the current agreement.
"I would like to see a more modest increase in this. We're not taking on any more cases because they're already at their limit. They have to outsource, they're only allowed so many cases running concurrently. We looked at approximately a two percent increase among other offices, with no additional workload. This should mirror that. We aren't exactly flush cash reserves", Tiemann said.
Timan, who was not at the board’s meeting Wednesday, handles public defense in the county by himself, without an appointed deputy public defender. The office does receive part-time legal back-up…and in cases of conflict of interest or multiple-defendant cases, other defense attorneys are periodically appointed by the court.
Gage County Attorney Roger Harris says Timan handles a lot of cases.
"Unfortunately a lot of our drug cases involve individuals that are living together, working together. If the public defender's office gets one appointment, we have to start looking for other attorneys to represent the co-defendants. That's what drives the outside legal counsel up. Everybody hates me, but I'll say it....we try to resolve those cases as quickly as we can through plea bargains. You don't like it, but it would be a lot worse if we had jury trials every week, in this county".
Gage County Clerk Dawn Hill said the public defense contract in 2013 was $133,000, increasing to $149,000 at the end of that three-year agreement. From 2016 through 2018, the contract stayed at $149,000 annually. The new proposal would set the figure at $165,000 for each of the three years, through June of 2022.
Supervisor John Hill said, "the office, as a whole, can only handle one case when there is a multiple-defendant(case). The other thing I would say, it looks like this is locked in for three years....so the previous rate has been locked in for three years."
The public defense contract goes before a review committee, prior to approval. County Attorney Harris suggested the board place the agreement on the next meeting agenda, with an executive session for any potential negotiation between the county and defender.