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Md. to pay for panel attorneys

December 14, 2008|By ERIN JULIUS

HAGERSTOWN - Washington County will not be responsible for funding defense attorneys for some criminal defendants, as some county officials first thought.

Maryland Public Defender Nancy S. Forster said in September that the state would quit paying panel attorneys -- those brought in to represent clients when there is a conflict of interest with the public defender's office -- effective Oct. 1.

The Office of the Public Defender was notified by the Department of Budget and Management on Nov. 25 that it would grant a requested $3.5 million in funding, Kimberlee Schultz, director of communications for the Office of the Public Defender, said Thursday.

Schultz in September blamed the cutback on budget reductions.

The state spent about $4.7 million on panel attorneys in the last fiscal year, Schultz said. About 10,000 of the public defender's 200,000 cases throughout the state in the last fiscal year were handled by panel attorneys.

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Based on the office's projections, the $3.5 million should be enough to fund panel attorneys this year.

Washington County Attorney John M. Martirano in November told the County Commissioners that the county likely would have to pay for panel attorneys if directed to do so by the courts.

The state spent about $200,000 on panel attorneys in Washington County in fiscal 2008, Washington County Assistant Attorney Andrew F. Wilkinson said in November during a discussion about the issue with the County Commissioners.

In District 11, which is made up of the public defender's offices in Frederick and Washington counties, panel attorneys are called in for about 70 cases a month, District Public Defender Mary Riley has said.

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