Tuesday, October 27, 2009

RELEASE: Combs Introduces Legislation to Help With Indigent Defense

COLUMBUS – State Representative Courtney Combs (R-Hamilton) today introduced legislation that would allow municipal courts that do not have a public defender assigned to their court and those that do not seek reimbursement from the Indigent Defense Fund to compensate court appointed attorneys.

“Unfortunately for courts that do not use the public defender system, the defendants and the city are in turn paying for another court’s defense fund,” Combs said. “My legislation would correct this problem and help struggling cities save money during these tight times.”

Under House Bill 335, the court would retain the court fees assessed for indigent defense rather than pay those fees into the State Indigent Defense Fund. Currently, indigent defendants in these courts are paying into the State Indigent Defense Fund and are not receiving any benefit. The city then is forced to reimburse the court for indigent defense.

This issue was brought to Combs’ attention by Judge Joyce Campbell of the Fairfield Municipal Court, whose court does not have a public defender. In 2008, her court sent over $130,000 to the Indigent Defense Fund.

“The Ohio Public Defenders Office provides excellent representation to those communities they serve,” Judge Campbell said. “However, for those courts, such as mine, that do not utilize their services it is fundamentally unfair to require the poorest of the poor to pay fees for services they do not receive. This legislation will rectify this situation and provide relief to the government entity actually paying for the court appointed attorneys representing indigent defendants in municipal and county courts of Ohio.”

The bill will now be referred to a committee where it will undergo further discussion.