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Minnehaha needs more money to pay defene attorneys

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News Mitchell, 57301
The Daily Republic
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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

SIOUX FALLS (AP) — Minnehaha County must supplement its budget to cover unexpected court costs, in part because of a spike in the number of people who are accused of crimes and can’t afford a lawyer.

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Through October, the county paid more than $625,000 to private lawyers for 779 cases, the Argus Leader reported. Payments for jury service, interpreters and clinic fees also are over budget.

The county had planned to spend about $1 million on these court costs this year, but Second Circuit Court Administrator Karl Thoennes said he’ll probably need to ask for about $150,000 more by Dec. 17.

The commission’s administrative officer, Ken McFarland, said criminal justice already accounts for more than half the county’s $63 million budget.

“Law enforcement and criminal justice are big bucks in this county,” he said.

Court-appointed private lawyers are paid $84 per hour. Those payments represent the largest portion of the court budget, which also covers costs for psychiatric testing, expert witnesses and court reporters.

Once a judge appoints a lawyer, the county is on the hook for the bill, commissioner Dick Kelly said. The more complex the case, the more likely it will require big payments.

“We pay a lot of attention to it, even though there isn’t much we can do about it,” Kelly said.

The record year for payments to court-appointed lawyers is the latest sign of a growing criminal justice workload in the county.

Commissioners have been looking into the possibility of building a new corrections center and expanding the downtown jail, and the state’s attorney, public defender and public advocate’s offices each have asked for additional staff next year to deal with the increase in felony filings.

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