BOWLING GREEN (AP) — Public defenders across Kentucky are dealing with bigger caseloads. In Bell County, there were 1,949 total cases in the fiscal year 2011. The majority of those trails came from Adult District and Family Court cases (1,225).
Bell County ranked among the top counties in district and family court cases with 66.3 percent of cases being in district and family court. Bell County also how one of the highest new caseloads in the state with an average of 483.1 new cases.
Bell Co. has 6.5 attorney positions with 3,445 new cases being assigned to the office.
The Daily News in Bowling Green reports that public defenders were assigned 152,727 new cases in 2011 compared to 151,280 the previous year and 108,078 nine years ago.
Renae Tuck, directing attorney for the Bowling Green office, said that office remains among the busiest in the state with caseloads climbing steadily through the years. Tuck attributed part of the increase to methamphetamine drug arrests and the economic recession.
“I remember when methamphetamine started, I didn’t know what it was and then suddenly (our caseloads) just skyrocketed,” Tuck said.
Since the economic decline, she says the office has dealt with more cases involving theft.
She says the Bowling Green office, which has 10 public defenders, handled 5,437 new cases in 2011.
“When I first got here it was around 4,000 cases a year,” said Tuck, who began working in the office in 2001.
The newspaper cited an annual litigation report released by the Department of Public Advocacy that shows the Bowling Green office has the highest average caseloads in the state when new cases are added to ongoing ones with 799.8 per attorney.
It also shows the office, which is one of 30 in the state, has the highest portion of cases in circuit court at 42.4 percent.
The report says caseloads have risen 43.5 percent across the state since 2002.
Ed Monahan, head of the Department of Public Advocacy, says funding for the department has decreased as the number of clients has increased, though it is expected to remain level over the next two years.
“We have less money now to provide representation for clients than we had in 2008,” Monahan said. “Our caseloads in that period have increased significantly, approaching the high 400s on average (per attorney) across the state. That’s a level of cases that attorneys can’t handle competently.”
Monahan said the justice system should be fair to everyone involved, and the department is trying to assure that by realigning the DPA’s trial offices. By 2020, the department aims to have offices in each of the state’s 57 judicial districts.
“There are 120 county attorney offices in the state and 57 commonwealth’s attorney offices, we have 30 trial offices that are competing against these 177 prosecutors,” he said.