By: Donald Cyphers investigative reporter
Syndicated by: Montana News
The Montana Legislature is looking to move monies from various local city and municipal governments by taking their revenues and then directing that money to the State Office of Public Defender.
The Yellowstone County Commissioners are fighting back by trying to educate the public as to what is going on with facts and figures as their rebuttal to an Amendment attached to House Bill#2.
The OPD which is the Office of Public Defender is a state agency that has nearly doubled in size since the Legislature has taken over the program from Montana local counties. It would appear that the State's inability to trim the fat in many areas is now trying to take local money for a Public Defender budget that for years the individual Montana Counties have always had to balance and meet their budget goals.
Years ago, in the Chief of the Yellowstone County Public Defender days, Attorney Sandy Selvey and prior his term were able to run a tight budget and put on a better defense on for their clients than what is happening today.
Under the Legislative control, the OPD state agency has nearly doubled in its size financially since the Legislative body assumed the program yet the defense of their clients is lacking. Just ask any person in Montana who has had to have a Public Defender represent them as of late. It's inadequate, mediocre defense at best.
The Legislative Fiscal Division LFD has reported that the Public Defender System appropriations for 2007 were $18.6 million and yet the budget request including any various supplemental funds for this current biennium, is at $40 million for the upcoming biennium. Why? Moreover, why the need for so much money from local governments when the representation of their clients lacks greatly. Oh, throw more money at the problem, and maybe that will fix it. NOT.
Just days ago members of the Part D Joint Appropriations Subcommittee which consists of the Judicial Branch, Law Enforcement and the Justice took time to hear testimony from the OPD who blamed the Local City and County Ordinances as the reason why the legal defense costs are being driven sky high for Attorneys in Montana.
In other words, blame the cities, towns, and Counties for drumming up many ordinances to create more tickets and fines which translates into an overload for the OPD Public Defenders to handle which drives their costs up due to an overwhelming amount of clients to defend over ridiculous citations, and so on.
Thirty-nine individuals gave testimony.
The Subcommittee then moved to go ahead with the plan to reduce payments to various cities and counties and then direct that money to the Office of Public Defenders.
However, herein lies the problem.
The numbers that were given in the testimony and repeated by the Office of Public Defenders in the General Appropriations Committee on March 8th don't make any sense. They flunk elementary math class.
Their numbers don't add up at all. According to the LFD, they allege that the lower courts cases such as Misdemeanor cases in a city/municipal and justice courts that are assigned counsel are at a 5-year low. According to the LFD, they allege that the lower court caseload statistics from fy 2014 to fy2018 have drastically increased.
For example, Criminal cases in fy2014 were at 6,597 then in fy2018 rose to 8,850.
For example, Juvenile cases in fy2014 were at 1,052 then in fy2018 fell to 799
For instance, Dependent/Neglect cases in fy2014 were at 3,029 then in fy2018 rose to 4,525
For example, the Involuntary cases for fy2014 were at 1,046 then in fy2018 rose to 1,107.
Here is the problem, the LFD does not appear to have any evidence that shows an increase in misdemeanor ordinance violations to be the contributing factor for driving up the Office of Public Defender costs in representing clients. They have forgotten that the Criminal Justice costs have dramatically risen in the whole state of Montana's legal world.
Yes, increase and decreased costs over time of Law Enforcement and jails, courts prosecutors, mental health, chemical dependency and other cases that are usually funded by LOCAL governments and are budget balanced.
This is a LIBERAL RADICAL grab attempt by the Legislative body to control and reduce revenues from local governments and then taking that money to be used by the state Public Defender System. This is a form of Democrat Socialism.
What is yours, is mine. This is an unacceptable action by the Montana Legislative body all based on nonfactual financial figures.
Yellowstone County Commissioner Denis Pitman Chairman Donald Jones Member and Long time member John Ostlund are trying to wake up the public as to what is going on with an Amendment attached to House Bill (2).
This article was published by: Donald Cyphers Investigative reporter License# USPA-ID-US/VI-01/29995