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Published: Thursday, 9/29/2005

Courts add $25 charge for public defenders


Defendants requesting a public defender or court-appointed attorney are now being charged $25 for the formerly free representation when they appear in Ohio courts.

The fee went into effect today and will be taken from defendants in common pleas, municipal, and juvenile courts in the state. It was among the new charges and assessments in the state's two-year budget that was signed into law in July.

The fee was designed to offset costs of providing representation to indigent people. Of the funds raised in Lucas County, 80 percent would remain there. The remainder goes to the Ohio Public Defender's office.

However, the law also gives discretion to the courts to waive the fees in some instances.

"The judge has the discretion to waive all or part of the fee in cases where the fee presents an undue hardship or where the defendant can't afford to pay the $25," said Amy Borrer, a spokesman for the Ohio Public Defender.

Judge Charles Wittenberg said yesterday the fee will be assessed in Lucas County Common Pleas Court for people who have the funds to contribute to the cost of their defense.

"The cases will be handled on a case-by-case basis. We will comply with the law," said Judge Wittenberg, who is the court's administrative judge.

Ms. Borrer said the assessment, based on similar programs used in 20 other states, could raise about $2 million.

Defiance County Common Pleas Judge Joseph Schmenk said some defendants asking for free representation often can't afford the $25. However, he said there are instances in which people who are working have money for the fee but can't afford a retainer to pay for an attorney.

The two-year budget also calls for fee increases for civil filings in municipal courts, effective Saturday.

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