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AAC


FEATURE Costs


According to a report by the Arkansas DFA, prior to the state taking over the bulk of the public defender system, there were 147 public defender positions across the state paid for by county government. Act 51 in the 1997 Regular Legislative Session explicitly set the number of employees for the Arkansas Public Defender Commission at 18 employees, including 7 public defender attorneys. Te appropriated bud- get for fiscal year 1997 was set at $951,318 and for fiscal year 1998 it was set at $948,814. However according to DFA, overall the state budgeted for a total of 104 public defend- ers after takeover. Tis level of staffing was still 40 short compared to the amount of public defenders that existed statewide before the state took over. Act 1799 in 2001 added an additional 22 public defenders. Act 145 in the 2020 Fiscal Session set the number of public defenders, public defender office employees, and appropriations for the public defender system. In 2020, the total number of public defenders totaled 171, and the total number of non-attorney employees for the public defender system totaled 103. In total, there were 274 employees in the public defender system. Furthermore, $27,244,627 was appropriated to the Arkansas Public De- fender Commission for the salaries and personal services of State Operations for public defenders and the Trial Public Defender Office. In conclusion, not only is approximately $5.5 million dollars being withheld from the county’s general turnback, but this is county money that is being used by the state to pay for the salaries of state deputy prosecutors and associated benefit costs. To make matters worse, Pulaski County does not receive any general turnback from the state at all because it is all deducted as their share of deputy prosecutor salaries and benefits. Tus, the only remedy for this injustice is for the state to stop withholding this money and release this $5.5 million which rightfully belongs to the counties of Arkansas. Te breakdown for each judicial district can be found in the relevant codes provided in the footnotes. Furthermore, at least 27 counties in Arkansas are paying for expenses in the public defender’s office that are statutorily the responsibility of the state. Tis is despite the fact that the counties were told in 2001 to cease spending on public defenders. In addi- tion to paying the costs of facilities, equipment, and sup- plies in order to provide an efficient operation of the public defender’s office, counties are spending thousands of dollars on extra costs. Tese extra costs include public defenders, sec- retaries, benefits, and other support staff. Te counties should not be paying for the clearly defined responsibilities of the state listed in Ark. Code § 16-87-302. In order to cease the hemorrhaging of county funds on these expenses that are not legal obligations of the counties, the state of Arkansas should


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fulfill the responsibilities they voluntarily agreed to and promoted. Tis can be done by the Arkansas Public Defender Commission expanding the number of public defenders, the legislature allocating more money for public defenders and support staff, and the state shifting the costs the counties are currently paying to the state. Over 20 years ago the state of Arkansas admitted in writ-


ing through enacted legislation that the system of funding the state judicial system had created inequity in the level of judicial services available to the citizens of Arkansas and committed to phasing in the responsibility of funding the state court system from county government to the state. And almost as quickly as it started it stopped. Te 1997 legislation shifted “partial” costs of the public defender system to the state, and the 1999 legislation shifted “partial” costs of the deputy prosecuting attorney system to the state. And then it stopped. Te plan of transitioning to a state funded “state court system” has been on hold for the past 20 years. It is well documented by a Special Report compiled by


Arkansas Legislative Audit in 2015 that the state’s court system costs more than it raises in court derived revenues. Te report also concluded that the $36 million deficit is primarily ab- sorbed at the county level through the counties’ general funds. No doubt, that deficit is even larger today. Te transition to a state-funded state court system should be taken off hold.


Footnotes


Judicial District #01 – A.C.A. 16-21-601 Judicial District #02 – A.C.A. 16-21-701 through 16-21-703 Judicial District #03 – A.C.A. 16-21-801 Judicial District #04 – A.C.A. 16-21-901 Judicial District #05 – A.C.A. 16-21-1001 Judicial District #06 – A.C.A. 16-21-1101 through 16-21-1109 Judicial District #07 – A.C.A. 16-21-1201 through 16-21-1204 Judicial District #08 – A.C.A. 16-21-1301 Judicial District #09 – A.C.A. 16-21-1401 through 16-21-1402 Judicial District #10 – A.C.A. 16-21-1501 through 16-21-1503 Judicial District #11 – A.C.A. 16-21-1601 through 16-21-1603 Judicial District #12 – A.C.A. 16-21-1701 through 16-21-1704 Judicial District #13 – A.C.A. 16-21-1801 Judicial District #14 – A.C.A. 16-21-1901 through 16-21-1905 Judicial District #15 – A.C.A. 16-21-2001 through 16-21-2007 Judicial District #16 – A.C.A. 16-21-2101 Judicial District #17 – A.C.A. 16-21-2201 through 16-21-2203 Judicial District #18 – A.C.A. 16-21-2301 Judicial District #19 – A.C.A. 16-21-2401 through 16-21-2403 Judicial District #20 – A.C.A. 16-21-2501 Judicial District #21 – None Judicial District #22 – A.C.A. 16-21-2701


COUNTY LINES, FALL 2020


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