Public defenders’ office under budget

JOHNSTOWN — The new Fulton County Office of Assigned Counsel is under budget, but is still tweaking its operation as it seeks to get reimbursement from the state.

Assigned Counsel Administrator Michael Smrtic — due to be elected as the next County Court judge — spoke about his office’s operation recently before the Board of Supervisors’ Public Safety Committee.

Smrtic said his office has to meet certain basic criteria before it gets reimbursement from the state. He said his office gets no reimbursement from Fulton County Family Court.

“We’re still under budget,” he said.

Smrtic requested the committee approve a budget reduction of $89,871. He noted the Office of Assigned Counsel was established in March, but then shortly thereafter, the COVID-19 pandemic ensued. He said that drastically reduced court appearances and representation, various training, and other items. Therefore, Smrtic said his Assigned Counsel Division didn’t need to allocate all of the appropriate money in its 2020 budget.

In addition, Smrtic said the anticipated money from a Hurrell-Harring Grant in the amount of $59,121 for the rotating system of attorneys didn’t meet the state criteria for reimbursement and another grant of $10,000 was “minimally spent.”

Smrtic said COVID kept criminal expenses lower than normal this year.

“Next year, I think we’re going to see it kind of explode,” he said.

The committee approved a proposed resolution to reduce the budget by $89,871. The full board would finalize the action Monday.

The Public Safety Committee also approved a proposed resolution for two assigned counsel services’ contracts for 2021. The full board will also finalize that Monday. Smrtic said the contracts are approved on an annual basis in order to maintain “effective and efficient operations” of his division.

Contracts for Smrtic’s office included one with John Probst Investigations Inc. for investigative services for all of 2021. The rate would be $55 per hour, and 57 cents per mile.

Another contract with the Rural Law Center of New York for appellate legal services for next year has a proposed rate of $2,500 per appeal or $5,000 per appeal if transcripts exceed 2,000 pages.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at [email protected]

By Patricia Older