The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution establishes the right to a speedy and public trial and legal defense. Thursday, the Carson City Board of Supervisors will consider a new Office of Public Defender to ensure that right for indigent defendants.
Two agenda items at the Board of Supervisors meeting revolve around the creation of the office. The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m. According to a staff report, the move is necessary due to a staffing shortage at the state, which the city has contracted with for indigent legal services.
“Carson City has contracted with the SPD (Nevada State Public Defender’s Office) for over 25 years to provide representation and services to indigent persons in Carson City,” reads the report.
In April and May, the state notified the city the state office couldn’t accept new cases for some felonies and misdemeanors.
“The SPD also indicated that the SPD would review category A felonies on a case-by-case basis and would move to withdraw from some existing felony cases,” reads a staff report. “In an April 17, 2023, letter from the SPD, the city was advised that the SPD would also be unable to accept any new misdemeanor domestic battery cases until further notice.”
In the same letter to the city, State Public Defender Chris Arabia attributed the measures to understaffing.
“These measures are necessary because severe understaffing (aggravated by our inability to offer competitive salaries) continues to leave us without sufficient personnel to provide effective representation in the aforementioned cases,” Arabia said.
According to the city’s staff report, the city’s conflict counsel attorneys and some private attorneys took on cases for the short term.
“Due to current caseloads, the city's conflict counsel attorneys only agreed to take on new indigent cases, making it necessary for the city to pay private attorneys up to $300 per hour to take cases where the SPD had moved to withdraw,” reads the report.
Thursday, supervisors will consider a corrective action plan between the city and the Nevada Department of Indigent Defense Services (DIDS) as well as changes to the city’s own plan that would establish the new Office of Public Defender.
The proposed budget for the new office, for fiscal year 2024, would be roughly $2 million. The majority of that would come from money already budgeted for the SPD contracts, and the remainder would be reimbursed by DIDS, according to the staff report.
Supervisors will also consider the first reading of an ordinance establishing the office.
“The public defender must be appointed by the board,” reads the proposed ordinance.
According to Carson City’s Indigent Defense Service Plan, “a person must be deemed indigent, and is eligible for appointment of counsel to represent the person, if the person is unable, without substantial hardship to himself or herself or his or her dependents, to obtain competent and qualified legal counsel on his or her own.”
A copy of the city’s plan can be viewed online: https://legistarweb-production.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/attachment/pdf/1972801/Indigent_Defense_Services_Plan_Updated_5_24_23_b_clean.pdf.
In other action:
• Supervisors will consider a collective bargaining agreement between the city and the relatively new Carson City Deputy District Attorneys Association.
Made up of prosecutors in the criminal and juvenile divisions of the District Attorney’s Office, the bargaining unit was officially recognized by the Board of Supervisors in November of last year.
According to city staff, the agreement would start July 1 and run through June 30, 2026. If the agreement is approved, the fiscal impacts for fiscal year 2024 would be $239,421. That amount includes pay increases for association members but also for attorneys in the civil division who are barred from union membership per state law.
"However, for purposes of achieving equitable compensation among attorneys who are employed in the same workplace, it is recommended that limited parity be implemented by way of applying the salary schedule under Article 6 of the tentative agreement to the civil division attorneys,” reads a staff report.