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Eye On Boise

Soaring caseload forces pricier move: Hiring outside attorneys

Attorneys in Idaho’s State Appellate Public Defender’s office are carrying workloads that are more than double the national average and face an ever-expanding caseload. So the office has requested an additional appellate unit attorney next year, which would bump its total number of attorneys from 15 to 16. “Our caseload has drastically increased in the last three years,” State Appellate Public Defender Sara Thomas told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning. “Our attorneys can only handle so much work, they can only ethically handle so many cases until they have to step forward and say, ‘I can’t do any more.’ … When that happens, we have to send our case out to private counsel.”

The office pays $125 an hour to contract a case out to a private attorney; its in-house cost, including not only salary but all personnel costs, is just $42.72 per hour. “We could get, for less than half (the cost),  the same amount of work done if we could keep that case within our office,” Thomas said.

Her office requested $69,800 to add the additional attorney; Gov. Butch Otter recommended making the addition, but just transferring money from the office’s operating funds to personnel to cover the cost. The SAPD’s office has a total budget of just over $2 million, all from state general funds; its request for next year is for a 5.9 percent increase, while Otter recommended 1 percent.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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