Go Ernie

I'm actually in Lexington now--doing a piece about as far from my usual legal beat as possible--horses. I'm doing a magazine piece about the yearling auction at Keeneland and having a blast.

Of course my life wouldn't be mine if there weren't concurrent news from the world of indigent defense, from, you guessed it right here in Kentucky.

As it turns out, Kentucky's chief public defender said today that his agency will seek a $10 million budget increase in the next few years aimed at helping lawyers manage growing caseloads.

"We are a very cost-efficient system but we've got too many cases," Public Advocate Ernie Lewis said.

The Department of Public Advocacy spends $34.5 million annually to represent more than 134,000 people whom judges find unable to afford their own lawyers.

About $10 million more is ultimately needed to bring the caseload down from an average of 489 cases per lawyer to 400 cases, Lewis said. The extra funding will also improve the attorney/staff ratio and add social workers and alternative sentencing workers, Lewis said.

It's always hard to ask for more money and explain why it's necessary, and Ernie deserves kudos for being willing to do it, and for putting clients first. That being said, some of the stats in Kentucky are a bit scary: Public defenders currently average only about 3.8 hours per case, Lewis said. Most of the cases - about 64 percent - are misdemeanors involving jail time. Twenty-three percent involve felony charges, with juvenile cases accounting for 13 percent of the workload.

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