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House wary of governor’s public defender plan Deval Patrick aims to add 1,000 lawyers, staff to state payroll

House wary of governor’s public defender plan
Deval Patrick aims to add 1,000 lawyers, staff to state payroll

By Chris Cassidy  |   Friday, April 15, 2011  |  http://www.bostonherald.com  |  Local Politics

House leaders and the Patrick administration are gearing up for a battle over the governor’s plan to revamp the state’s expensive public defender system by hiring staff attorneys.

“The first question we asked is, does it makes sense to not only bring on 1,000 attorneys to the payroll, but also support staff?” said state Rep. Brian Dempsey, House Ways & Means chairman. “There is some concern about adding that number of people to the payroll.”

But Gov. Deval Patrick showed no signs of backing away from his plan to remake the Committee for Public Counsel Services yesterday.

“We do think more can be done and that’s why the governor made such a comprehensive and aggressive proposal in his budget that we filed in January,” said spokeswoman Alex Zaroulis. “We look forward to working with House budget leaders on this issue.”

The governor’s plan would replace roughly 3,000 private lawyers paid hourly on contracts with 1,000 full-time public defenders under a new department within the executive branch, with up to 500 more support staff. The administration estimates its plan will save $45 million.

But court-appointed attorneys have contended the governor’s plan will cost the state more than the current system, because salaried state workers will receive pensions and benefits. CPPS also claims public defenders would be too overworked to effectively represent clients.

CPPS has seen its budget rise dramatically during the past decade, and prosecutors have long charged that the agency receives a disproportionate amount of taxpayer funds.

Aiming to wring an estimated $53 million in savings, the House would hire just 200 defenders. The probation department would be given up to three days to verify whether defendants are indigent, the number of billable hours for private attorneys would be reduced to 1,500 a year and the number of cases district attorneys dismiss after public defenders have invested hours would be slashed.

“We have a very reasonable approach to this, which gets to the issue, which is cost,” Dempsey said.

State House News contributed to this report.

Article URL: http://www.bostonherald.com/news/politics/view.bg?articleid=1330855

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