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  • Writer's pictureCharlene Sims, Journal staff

Court officials say shortage of lawyers forces budget increase

Updated: Jun 30, 2023

The 6th District court for Linn, Miami and Bourbon counties has been experiencing difficulties in finding attorneys that can be appointed by the court. Court officials have asked the Linn County Commission for a budget increase for 2024 to cover contract demands of those attorneys. (Journal file photo)

By Charlene Sims, Journal staff

MOUND CITY – The Linn County Commissioners learned from District Court Clerk Lori Simmons and other members of the 6th District Court team that it was difficult to find contract attorneys to do the public defender services in Linn County and because of that the court’s budget would be going up in the contractual category.

On Monday, June 26, Simmons presented the district court’s 2024 budget of $195,300 to the commissioners with the explanation that it had stayed the same as the 2023 budget except for contractual services. She said she was increasing that line item because the cost for contracted attorneys would be going up.

Sixth District Court Chief Clerk Stephanie Gerken said that the three bids that had been returned to the district court office had requested $500 more per month.

Simmons said that about 80% of the court’s budget was for the contracted lawyers, and it appeared that it would be going up from $126,000 per year to $144,000 per year. She was allowing for not only the three attorneys’ costs but also costs when a conflict attorney, who is paid hourly, was involved.

Courts are required by statute to provide a public defender for people who fill out an affidavit requesting a court appointed attorney because they cannot afford one. The costs for these attorneys come from the district court budgets

Simmons told the commissioners that these attorneys are assigned to a variety of cases, including criminal misdemeanor, juvenile, child in need of care (CINC), contempt, divorce, traffic, and care and treatment cases.

Simmons said it was getting harder and harder to get anyone to come down from the city to work these cases because they work for big attorney offices.

Linn County District Court Judge Andrea Purvis told the commissioners that there is a shortage of attorneys in Kansas and also nationwide. Purvis said no one that works as a contracted attorney for the Linn County District Court lives locally or has an office in Linn County.

“Everyone that we have that is willing to submit bids for contracts are coming in from out of town, and those contracts don’t pay mileage, they don’t pay incidentals,” said Purvis. “It’s pretty much a flat fee unless there is a trial and sometimes they get paid a little bit additional.”

“Just like there are not very many people who want to do prosecution work, there are not as many people who want to work in rural areas doing defense work either,” said Purvis.

Simmons explained other expenses in her budget. The district court pays for training for the court service officers (CSO), her training and travel. She said the budget also pays for the costs of the law library, paper for the printers, and other equipment like computers. She said that when they moved into the new Justice Center, the district court office had to pay for the cameras in their area and also the telephones.

While the district court no longer has to pay for water, electricity or heating costs since it moved into the Justice Center, the court still pays for the telephone and internet costs, said Simmons.

Commission Chair Danny McCullough asked if their was anyway the district court could combine its paper costs and similar items with other county departments to get a better price. Simmons said that the court had always purchased its own commodities.

County Clerk David Lamb said that some of the offices in the courthouse bought bulk copy paper and ink cartridges to save money.

McCullough asked if the district court had to pay for court-ordered drug testing and asked if they could use the county health department. Simmons said that they used a specific company, and the court did pay for the tests. However, when the case as settled the case money was paid back to the district court office and then went into the county’s general fund the same as court costs. The district court paid just over $40,300 of these kind of funds back to the county in 2022.

McCullough asked if their were any other incentives the county could offer to get attorney to contract here.

County Counselor Gary Thompson said he thought that one of the biggest incentives for the attorneys would be working on minimizing the number of trips the attorneys had to make here.

Purvis said that they were planning on having a meeting on how they could arrange court dates so attorneys did not have to come down as frequently.

The commissioners tentatively approved the district court’s budget of $195,300.

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