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Dutchess County Comptroller Robin Lois Issues Audit Report on Dutchess County Public Defender's Office
Findings Show Opportunities to Strengthen Fiscal Operations and Highlight Need for Responsible and Sustainable Growth

Published: 11/22/2019

For More Information Contact:

Karl Schlegel, 845-486-2068
comptroller@dutchessny.gov

Dutchess County Comptroller Robin Lois today released an audit report on the Dutchess County Public Defender’s Office. The Public Defender’s constitutional function and local mission is to represent indigent criminal defendants in Criminal Court, adult litigants in Family Court, and individuals facing parole matters.

"The work of the Public Defender’s Office is of great importance to the residents of Dutchess County and to ensuring the constitutional rights of those in the criminal justice system," said Dutchess County Comptroller Robin Lois. "Our audit found several opportunities for the Public Defender’s Office to improve fiscal operations, specifically when it comes to consistently tracking and documenting revenues and expenses, incomplete reconciliations, and oversight of the accounting process."

Other highlights of the report include:

  • Costs of 18-b attorneys have remained relatively consistent over the audit period, in fact these costs have increased from 2017 to 2018 while total cases decreased. The report recommends that an in-depth cost analysis be conducted analyzing 18-b attorneys versus in-house Public Defender attorneys, understanding that quality representation of clients is paramount.
  • Client records were insufficient in demonstrating the required criteria for determining eligibility had been satisfied. The report recommends strengthened processes to adhere to the guidelines recommend by the ILS. It is in the best interest of the taxpayers that an adequate review be done to help ensure the system is not taken advantage of, and that public defenders do not become overextended at the detriment of quality legal representation for those truly most in need.
  • Dutchess County does not have an approved Assigned Counsel Plan in place, resulting in inconsistent case management. Developing and implementing a Plan should be a priority for the County.

The Public Defender’s Office has recently seen unprecedented growth; budgeted expenses in the department between 2012 and 2019 have doubled to over $7 million dollars annually. Most of these increases were the direct result of new initiatives or programs implemented by the Office, and many are financially supported by State grants.

“The Public Defender has been diligent and proactive in securing New York State grant funds and being in the forefront of state-wide initiatives, implementing several evidenced-based programs,” added Comptroller Lois. “My concern in this area is that the County maintain a responsible and sustainable growth for this department. If, or when, these state funding initiatives come to an end, the Dutchess County taxpayers could be left with the responsibility to either maintain the extensive department and services or cut the budget, the services, and the employees. For this reason, I believe it is imperative that the Public Defender put in place internal control procedures, including attorney performance metrics and client success measures, in order to allow for accurate measurement and evaluation of the effectiveness and operating efficiencies of the program over time.”

This audit comes as the County grapples with the impacts of impending criminal justice reforms set to take effect in January – specifically, bail reform.

“In addition to all of this recent change and growth in the Public Defender’s office, we still do not know the effects that the recent New York Bail Reform Law that goes into effect in January 2020 will have on the Public Defender’s Office or the County’s criminal justice system as a whole. We, as a County, will need to be diligent and proactive in our monitoring and response to the imminent changes to come,” concluded Comptroller Lois.

A full copy of the report is publicly available to view or download on the Dutchess County Comptroller’s website by clicking here.