County facing ‘critical’ shortage of public defenders

by chris bridges - the walton tribune

Walton County is currently facing a “critical staffing” shortage in the public defender’s office.

That was the news delivered to the Walton County Board of Commissioners this month.

“That results in quite a ripple effect across the county,” County Manager John Ward said. “Currently there are six unfilled county-funded attorney positions in the public defender’s office.”

Ward said the shortages have a impact on the sheriff ’s office and the jail in terms of capacity, the courts as far as backlogs, the D.A. office in terms of representing the other side of those court actions and the inmates themselves.

“It also means increased medical costs because while someone is in jail we have the responsibility of taking care of those medical needs” Ward said. “Some of those can be quite staggering. That’s possibly much higher than the cost of housing an inmate.”

Ward said he had a possible solution to the shortage of public defenders which would not require additional money.

“We can move funds from the unfilled positions into a contract category,” Ward said. “Everyone agrees on a test run. We would then create a list of local attorneys that could be hired on contract basis to move cases through court.”

Chairman David Thompson asked if this would simply be in-house management since the funds are already there.

“The quicker we can move them through the system and out of the facility, we can save money,” Thompson said. “It looks like everyone is shaking their head ‘yes’ on this.”

Ward said continuing with the same process was simply not working at this time.

“The goal is to fully fund the department but if we keep doing the same thing we can expect the same result,” Ward said. “I wanted to make sure everyone is aware of this.”

No official vote on the matter was required and Ward was informed to carry on with the plan he had presented to the commissioners

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