INDIANAPOLIS — Misdemeanors are the largest case type in Indiana. However, the state does not reimburse counties for any work done on misdemeanor cases. Some law experts say that’s contributing to a significant lawyer shortage in Indiana.
”We know there’s a looming crisis with this massive lawyer shortage,” said Andrew Cullen, director of public policy and communications with the Indiana Public Defender Commission.
Cullen said the state only has roughly a third of the lawyers it needs. He also said 25 counties do not follow the commission’s caseload standards.
”We’re hearing they’re taking as many as 900 cases a year, which is insane. At that point, it’s just assembly-line justice,” Cullen said.
To help curb the shortage, Cullen said the commission is asking the General Assembly to consider a “misdemeanor expenses” pilot program. If approved, the commission would use funds it already has to help some counties pay for misdemeanor attorney costs.
”We actually have a little bit of extra bit of money that we think we could dedicate to this pilot program that will cost the state no additional funds, but we do need statutory authority to do that,” Cullen said.
”It’s a no-brainer,” said Bernice Corley, the executive director of the Indiana Public Defender Council.
Corley said the pilot program could ease the burden on taxpayers and increase quality representation for those with misdemeanor charges.
”Shorter times spent pre-trial in jail, so they’re not losing their job, custody of their kids, getting behind on rent or payments of that nature, it’s less destabilizing,” Corley said.
”That is certainly something we would be interested in participating in,” said Ray Casanova, the chief trial counsel for the Marion County Public Defender Agency.
Casanova said a lack of misdemeanor funding is contributing to ongoing recruiting and retention issues. He said if Marion County is part of the program, it would be reimbursed an additional one million dollars per year, potentially boosting salaries.
”So, we want to make sure that they have a salary that’s competitive,” Casanova said.