Just a few weeks into 2019, Pulaski Superior Court has already used up its annual budget for examination of prisoners and witness fees. Judge Crystal Brucker Kocher told the county council and commissioners Monday that the two line items had a combined $3,000 budgeted for this year. That money is used to hire doctors for the process of determining whether defendants are competent to stand trial.
“This is one of those things that until the person walks in the door and sits in front of me, I have no way of knowing if they have a mental health issue or not,” Kocher explained. “And so when you have people in a court that largely deals with substance abuse and substance use, you can imagine how that works on somebody and how those things develop.”
So far this year, Kocher said there have been three cases in which a defendant’s competency has been called into question, with a fourth pending. The county council and commissioners agreed to advertise additional appropriation requests of $2,000 for witness fees and $4,500 for examination of prisoners, for the council’s consideration next month.
Council President Jay Sullivan also suggested that Judge Kocher work with Four County Counseling Center, to see if that organization could provide the service. Kocher said that while Superior Court regularly works with Four County for things like substance use evaluations, the organization doesn’t currently have anyone on staff qualified to do competency evaluations.
Meanwhile, the county council also agreed to advertise a request for another $20,000 for pauper counsel. Last year, Superior Court decided to switch to contract public defenders from an hourly pay structure to lower costs, but Kocher said Monday that it will take a while to realize those savings. “Right now, we are still doing very well, in terms of where we’re at,” she said, “but we do need to request $20,000, to pay for those non-contract cases that we’re finishing up that had been previously appointed and some of the outstanding ones from 2018.”
All of those additional appropriation requests will be up for the county council’s final approval next month.