MORGAN COUNTY — A Morgan County judge says the number of criminal drug cases coming through the county’s court system is depleting the funding set aside for court-appointed attorneys.
Morgan County Superior Court I Judge Peter R. Foley told the county council Tuesday night that the number of defendants needing legal representation is well over what is budgeted for. He requested an additional $101,230 in funding to finish out the year, which was approved by the council.
Morgan County has seven attorneys under contract to represent these defendants. Each attorney agrees to take 105 criminal cases during the calendar year and is paid $383 for each case — or $40,215 per year.
In the past, the county usually went over that budgeted number in October or mid-November, Foley said. This year, that occurred at the end of September with “pauper cases” reaching 743, which is eight more than was budgeted for the seven attorneys.
If the number of cases goes over the number in the contract, as it already has this year, they are paid $383 for each additional case.
Foley said most of the increase is in cases that are drug-related.
As for next year, Foley said, the judges had discussed the matter and proposed to add an eighth contract in 2018. That, he said, would give them an additional 105 cases, which would help spread the case load.
Foley said the request for an additional contract should have been brought before the county council for approval at budget time earlier this year.
Council members agreed that the matter should have come up sooner, but also agreed to favorably consider the request to have eight attorneys on contract after the first of the year.
The council also approved an additional $1,200 to pay for court interpreters, because a fund that supports the program is depleted.
Morgan County Superior Court II Judge Brian H. Williams made the request because of an increase in the number of court cases that require an interpreter. Williams also said a large case that could cost more than $6,000 in interpreter fees may be heard this year.