The Gage County Public Defender’s Office reported that criminal cases in 2017 were on par with the 10-year average for the county.
Public Defender Lee Timan presented the annual report to the County Board this week. The report included statistics of criminal cases opened in Gage County in 2017. It was noted that the figures only represent cases in which a public defender was appointed, and do not represent all criminal cases in Gage County.
Last year, a public defender was appointed to 71 felony, 149 misdemeanor, 96 juvenile, 12 miscellaneous and 20 probation violation cases, for a total of 348.
Compared to 2016, public defenders handled 10 fewer felony cases, one additional misdemeanor case, three more juvenile cases, six additional miscellaneous cases and the same number of probation violations.
Last year was the third year in a row the department handled exactly 348 cases.
“We’re pretty much on pace with the 10-year average, as far as most categories,” Timan said. “Juveniles continue to be high, but I think that’s just a combination of truancy cases continuing to mount up and some juvenile neglect cases where children are removed from the home. If there’s multiple children, sometimes they’ll file it as a separate case for each child. So if you’ve got three kids in the house, it’s going to be three cases, even though it’s really one thing that you’re handling.”
The number of cases is slightly higher than the 10-year average of 341.1. The 10-year high occurred in 2007, when the public defender was appointed in 392 cases. The low occurred two years later with 313 cases.
The 10-year average for felony cases was 70.6, with a high of 84 felonies in 2007 and a low of 49 felonies in 2009.
Timan said a felony cap is in place to prevent him from being spread too thin with cases, and he can only be handling 40 felonies at a given time.
“For felonies, just because of the American Bar Association standards, they typically would like defense attorneys to not handle any more felony cases than they realistically can just because of the potential effects of if you’re stretched,” he said. "If somebody is looking at felonies, there are prison sentences and extra effects on their lives. They try to keep it manageable.”
In other instances, another attorney is appointed to prevent a conflict.
County Clerk Dawn Hill said the county budgets $149,000 annually for the public defender.
Timan said raising the cap would require an assistant attorney to handle the large case load, and more money from the county.
“If we were ever going to up that, it would probably require an associate that could take on some of the case load, whether it’s taking a portion of the felonies and some of the others, or me take all the felonies and they take all the lower-level things,” he said. “The reality of where we’re at is the 40 is something that could be increased, but would require additional funds for me to be able to hire an assistant attorney.”
From July 1 through the end of the year, Timan was at or over the 40-case cap for 76 days and had a low of 33 cases during that period.