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The Gage County Board of Supervisors delayed approving a new agreement with the public defender after concerns the proposal included a pay increase that was too high.

Lee Timan, with the firm Nelson, Clark & Timan, P.C., works as the public defender in Gage County.

County Board chairman Erich Tiemann said the previous contract was for $149,000 annually, and the proposal would be for an increase of $16,000.

Additionally, Tiemann pointed out that a cap allows the public defender to have a maximum of 40 felony cases at one time. If Timan is at that cap an attorney with a different firm is appointed.

“If you look at our claims that go through we outsource public defenders on a regular basis,” Tiemann said. “I would like to see a more modest increase in this. We’re not taking on any more cases because they’re already at their limit and have to outsource. They’re only allowed so many cases running concurrently. We looked at approximately 2 percent (increases) among other offices. With no additional workload I would think this should mirror that. We aren’t exactly flushed with cash reserves.”

Board member John Hill pointed out that the $16,000 increase is fixed for the three years of the contract, and would amount to around a 3 percent increase each year.

County Attorney Roger Harris added that many times when alternative attorneys are appointed to defendants in criminal cases it’s due to a conflict of interest related to defending multiple defendants who know each other or were involved in the same cases.

“Erich is right, we have a lot of outsourcing,” Harris said. “Unfortunately, a lot of our drug cases involve individuals that are working together, living together and if the public defender’s office gets one appointment, we’ve got to start looking for other attorneys to represent the other defendants. That’s what drives a lot of the outside legal council, quite frankly.”

Harris added he feels Timan does a good job as the public defender, and is often willing to work with prosecutors to resolve cases.

“Our office has done what we can with that as far as – I’ll say it and everybody hates me for it – but we try to resolve those cases as quickly as we can through plea bargains,” he said. “You don’t like it, but it’d be a lot worse if we had jury trials every week in this county.”

The County Board ultimately decided to postpone approving the contract, and will continue discussions during its next meeting in two weeks.

The board also discussed a $17,000 contract with the Beatrice Humane Society for kenneling captured and stray animals. The contract extends through June 30 and was approved unanimously.

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