Nevada Legislature: State urged to pay for public defenders |

Nevada Legislature: State urged to pay for public defenders

Associated Press Writer

Nevada lawmakers were urged Wednesday to back a bill requiring the state, rather than local governments, to cover costs of Nevada’s public defender system ” a cost that could double the network’s current $90 million, two-year price tag.

Representatives of the Nevada Association of Counties and Washoe and Clark counties told the Assembly Judiciary Committee they all backed AB45, drafted following a report to the state Supreme Court that supported the state-pay plan.

The current cost, two-thirds of it in Clark County and the balance in Washoe and outlying counties, is for services mandated by a long-standing U.S. Supreme Court requirement that indigents charged with crimes get adequate legal counsel.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 mandate was restated in October by the Nevada Supreme Court in its adoption of standards calling for adequate counsel for indigents. The state high court set an April 1 deadline for implementing those standards.

Under AB45, counties could have their own public defender offices or rely on the state to provide the services through an expanded defender agency. The counties with their own offices could bill the state for their expenses.

John Berkich, assistant Washoe County manager, and Chuck Wells, assistant Clark County manager, both said the U.S. Supreme Court’s mandate for legal representation for indigents made it clear that the costs are a state responsibility, even if the expense was delegated over time to local governments.

NACO representatives Wes Henderson and Doug Johnson also urged approval of AB45, with Henderson noting that 30 other states cover such costs while three others bear most of the costs of public defender systems.

While the cost of upgrading public defender services is high, the state high court had been told that not complying with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decades-old mandate for those services opens the state and its counties to possible lawsuits.

The high court added the average caseload for a public defender in the Las Vegas and Reno areas is more than double the standard of 150 recommended.