5 express interest in public defender position

Staff Writer

Five lawyers have expressed an interest in serving as public defender for West Point Municipal Court.

The five submitted their names by Friday’s deadline and the Board of Selectmen’s Public Safety Committee — William Binder and Leta Turner — will set up interviews and begin formalizing a job description and possible pay structure for the part-time position.
Binder and Turner have been talking to City Judges Mark Cliett and Bennie Jones about the position for several weeks. The judges have recommended having public defenders to represent people charged in crimes that could lead to jail time as misdemeanors or lead to felonies in the future. They also want them for people charged with felonies who seek hearings in Municipal Court.

Shoplifting and DUI are the biggest potential offenses that can lead to jail. Three convictions of either within five years is a felony punishable by up to five years.

The state Supreme Court has pushed justice and municipal courts to do more to protect offenders’ rights, both in terms of bonds and representation at hearings. It’s led to the growth in public defenders in lower courts across the state.

West Point already has paid a public defender $600 for three cases and Cliett has suggested maybe paying between $600 and $1,000 a month for the service. Some cities pay by the caseload and some pay by the day.

Depending on how the position is structured, it could also make the public defender eligible for city insurance, which is a big attraction because of good coverage and low rates.

The city hopes to have a person in place by next month.

Clay County Justice Court is expected to follow the city’s lead.