Board calls for $500,000 to fund Nevada rural indigent defense services
The Board of Examiners on Tuesday voted to recommend funding the newly-created Indigent Defense Services Department.
That department was created by the 2019 Legislature in response to the urging of Nevada’s Supreme Court and a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union charging that the current system violates the constitutional rights of defendants in many parts of rural Nevada by providing inadequate legal defense. Veteran Public Defense lawyer Marcie Ryba was named director of the project which will study how to fix those issues. Her department has already spent more than three-quarters of the $115,000 it was initially provided.
The board voted to send her request for an additional $525,036 to the Legislative Interim Finance Committee, which must approve spending from the Contingency Fund.
The money will pay for an expert study of appropriate attorney workloads, a one-year study of rural county defender data, a training program to help rural public defenders meet their obligations to provide effective legal counsel and training in those standards. Finally, it will pay for a contract with a software company to provide a caseload tracking system for those providers to use. The cash will be the department’s budget for the rest of this fiscal year and fiscal 2021.
The ACLU charges that Nevada, which allows most counties to provide their own indigent defense system, violates the 6th and 14th Amendment guarantees that defendants are entitled to a fair and speedy trial, a lawyer and the ability to confront their accusers.
The study is an agreed-upon plan to resolve the ACLU lawsuit.
David Carroll, director of the 6th Amendment Center, said the study that group conducted found that, while the system is working well in some counties, in others it is failing to protect the rights of defendants. He said Nevada has no mechanism to oversee the indigent defense process in the rural counties where there have been problems for over 20 years. He said for example, no one can say with certainty how much money the counties are spending on indigent services.
Washoe and Clark counties have fully-staffed public defender offices and the state Public Defender provides those services in Carson City and Storey County. The remaining 15 Nevada counties are on their own with no state funding or support.