For the third time this year, Pulaski Superior Court Judge Crystal Brucker Kocher is asking for permission to spend more money for pauper counsel. The county council has already agreed to let her spend $40,000 beyond what was initially budgeted. On Monday, she told council members she needs another $30,000.
“This is clearing out our hourly that we were paying to attorneys from 2018,” she explained. “Everything since 2019 has been contracted, except for those conflict cases. So this is just clearing that out, and we’re hoping that this will take care of the rest of the year.”
Council President Jay Sullivan noted that the two courts’ spending has more than doubled in the past four years, with the main increase being pauper counsel. “I’m not hammering on you guys. It’s just really very difficult for the council to budget and plan for that,” he told Kocher. “You’ve got so much of an increase.”
Kocher blamed the increase in large part on the number of drug cases, along with the lack of treatment options in Pulaski County. Sheriff Jeff Richwine noted the severity of the drug problem during his report to the council. “I wouldn’t want to be sitting hearing somebody come up and say, ‘I need $30,000.’ But that’s because you’ve got deputies arresting people and they’ve got to deal with them and most of them are indigent and they’ve got a right to a trial,” he said. “But it is a problem, and I think you’ve got two judges that are really looking at it to try to solve it. They’re not trying to just ‘Let’s throw them in jail and be done with it.'”
Richwine felt that the best way to resolve the problem is with treatment courts. In the meantime, Judge Kocher said her switch from hourly attorneys to contract public defenders should help make it easier for her to budget and plan.
Council members agreed to advertise her $30,000 additional appropriation request. It will be up for final approval next month.