High-profile cases deplete county’s public defender fund

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Officials are blaming an increase in drug-related activity and crime spilling over from Indianapolis for draining a suburban county's $500,000 public defender fund.

The Hancock County fund has also been affected by a jump in high-profile cases, with eight people charged with murder in the past two years after only two other such cases since 2007.

More than 60 percent of those charged last year with felonies said to a judge that they weren't able to pay for a defense attorney. Of the nearly 250 felony cases filed this year, about 100 defendants have asked to be represented by a taxpayer-funded lawyer, The Daily Reporter of Greenfield reported.

Attorney John Apple, who is chairman of the county's public defender board, asked for help last year from the Hancock County Council after the board's budget came up $90,000 short. He's certain he'll have to make another request for more money before the end of this year.

County Council President Bill Bolander said it's difficult to figure out how much to allocate for public defenders because they can't predict the number of cases the county will see.

"Having the murders just costs more," he said.

Public defenders are paid $90 an hour in the county. The public defender board is made up of 35 attorneys in Hancock County. Apple said it could take upward of 900 hours to finish a murder or high-level felony case.

Forty percent of what is expended on felony cases is reimbursed by the state, with the reimbursed funding going to the county's general fund rather than the public defender budget. There was about $181,000 reimbursed last year.

Hancock County sheriff's Maj. Brad Burkhart said many robbery and drug cases involve people from Indianapolis.

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