September 9, 2012 in Region

Six Benton County public defenders quit

Caseload changes may be behind resignations
Paula Horton Tri-City Herald
 

Six attorneys with public defense contracts in Benton County Superior Court turned in their resignations last week.

Eric Hsu, the indigent defense coordinator for Benton and Franklin counties, confirmed Friday that some of the public defenders resigned.

He said he still was sorting through the situation and didn’t have a clear idea what was driving the resignations. He hoped to talk to the attorneys this week.

Nine public defenders are on contract to receive appointments to represent felony defendants in Benton County.

The six lawyers who resigned are Dan Arnold, Kevin Holt, Scott Johnson, Sal Mendoza Jr., Gary Metro and Larry Zeigler.

Four of the six were reached Friday, but they said they couldn’t discuss the issue until this week.

The resignations might be tied to caseload changes being spurred by a state Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.

The justices, in a 7-2 vote, said full-time public defenders should take on no more than 150 felony cases each year or 300 misdemeanor cases.

Lawyers on contract in Benton County Superior Court currently have a 150-case cap and get paid $82,105 a year.

The high court also said attorneys who take on the maximum load will be considered working full time and cannot do any private practice legal work on the side.

A large percentage of the contract attorneys do private work on the side, and some also own law firms.

The guidelines don’t go into effect until September 2013, but Hsu has been working on devising a numerical case-weighting system to satisfy the new standards.

Attorneys receive extra pay for trials.

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