NORTH DAKOTA LEGAL COUNSEL FOR INDIGENTS COMMISSION
SUPREME COURT CONFERENCE ROOM, BISMARCK
January 14, 1999
Connie Triplett, Chair
Leslie Johnson Aldrich
Chair Triplett called the meeting to order at 10:00 a.m. and drew Commission members' attention to Attachment 1 (January 8, 1999) - Minutes of the October 22, 1998, meeting. Without objection, the minutes were approved as mailed.
Overview of Budget Information
At the request of Chair Triplett, staff summarized Attachment C (January 8, 1999) - A chart depicting indigent defense budget information for the 1997-99 biennium and funding requested for the 1999-2001 biennium. Staff said the requested percent of increase for each judicial district is as follows: East Central - 13.6%; Northeast Central - 3.7%; Northeast - 6.2%; Northwest - 15%; South Central - 15%; Southeast - 4.4%; and Southwest - no increase. He said the total funds requested includes all expenses associated with indigent defense services. He said the overall requested indigent defense budget for the next biennium represents an approximate 10% increase over the previous biennium.
Chair Triplett said the objective is to be able to justify the 10% increase to legislators and then also to be able to address issues of equity between judicial districts in terms of indigent defense budgets. She said Sen. Wayne Stenehjem has said he will raise the equity issue during the session as he has been receiving complaints from lawyers in Grand Forks.
With respect to offering support for the 10% increase, Chair Triplett said she intends to provide information comparing Grand Forks with Crookston and with the federal defender system. All of that information, she said, indicates contract compensation is low. Judge Kleven agreed that information assembled by Judge Bohlman and information about the Crookston system indicate that the Northeast Central judicial district provides indigent defense services for about half the amount indicated necessary by that information. Connie Triplett said the net effect of the lower funding is that contract counsel are being required to subsidize the system.
Chair Triplett inquired whether there was agreement with her submission of written testimony to the Appropriations Committees.
IT WAS MOVED BY JOHN GREENWOOD, SECONDED BY JUDGE KLEVEN, AND CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY THAT THE CHAIR BE AUTHORIZED TO SUBMIT TESTIMONY IN SUPPORT OF THE REQUESTED 10% BUDGET INCREASE.
John Greenwood wondered whether it is possible to achieve equity among the judicial districts without some districts gaining and others losing. Connie Triplett said it may be a matter of decreasing a district's percent of requested increase without requiring that the district fall behind current funding levels.
Commission members agreed the equity issue should be monitored and any responses evaluated by the Commission.
Mary Hoberg suggested the Commission should offer some general statement regarding achieving equity in funding among the several judicial districts. Commission members agreed.
IT WAS MOVED BY MARY HOBERG, SECONDED BY JUDGE KLEVEN, AND CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY THAT THE COMMISSION SUPPORTS EQUITY IN FUNDING FOR INDIGENT DEFENSE SERVICES AND PARTICULARLY EQUITY BETWEEN JUDICIAL DISTRICTS IN THE DISTRIBUTION OF INDIGENT DEFENSE FUNDS.
Public Defender System Issues
Staff drew Commission members' attention to Attachment D (January 8, 1999), which outlines the Supreme Court's preliminary conclusions regarding a public defender pilot project. The problems noted in the letter, he said, include the need for legislation and the lack of funds in the next biennium to undertake such a project. He said Chief Justice VandeWalle will request introduction of a study resolution that proposes a study of indigent defense services and the possible establishment of a public defender system. With respect to public defender systems in other states, he said all such systems have been established by statute. He said pilot projects have been undertaken in some states, including North Dakota in the early 1970's. Those projects, he said, were typically supported by independent grant funding.
Chair Triplett suggested, and Commission members agreed, that the progress of the study resolution should be monitored and issues relating to establishment of a public defender system should be reserved for possible discussion in the future.
IT WAS MOVED BY JUDGE KLEVEN, SECONDED BY CARL FLAGSTAD, AND CARRIED UNANIMOUSLY THAT THE COMMISSION BE ON RECORD IN SUPPORT OF THE STUDY RESOLUTION.
No further business appearing, the meeting was adjourned at 11:05 a.m.
Jim Ganje, Staff