Public defender fund in Hancock County nearly at zero, officials asking for $125K to pay legal fees

HANCOCK COUNTY, Ind. – Some public defenders in Hancock County are waiting to be paid because there's currently not enough money to cover the fees, according to the public defender chairman.

A busy year with murder cases means the money budgeted for these attorneys is nearly gone. Now, it's up to the county council to decide how they are going to pay for the six-figure problem.

"We went for a very long stretch that we really didn’t have any murder cases," said John Apple, chairman of the public defender board in Hancock County. "In the last two, three years or so we’ve had quite a run. That means we’ve got to spend more money."

For instance, the murder trial for Spencer Spielman cost more than $50,000. He was convicted of murdering a woman who hired him to do house work. The trial required many hours of preparation and even an expert witness, according to Apple.

His records list six different murder petitions this year. These particular cases came with an expense of $97,830.25.

So far this year, 856 cases have been assigned to public defenders in the county.

"I had $505 roughly left available to pay," Apple said.  "Payments are on hold right now. I’m certain public defenders will rather get paid sooner rather than later."

Apple addressed the county council last week and asked for the $125,000 needed to cover the legal expenses for the rest of the year.

"As much as folks don’t want to pay for things like that, it’s a constitutional protection," Apple said. "So, we have to do it."

While there has been some crime spillover from Indianapolis, Apple said there is also something else to blame for more serious cases that require many hours of work by a public defender.

"There are an awful lot of folks who have addiction issues particularly with the opioid drugs and things like that and even alcohol," Apple said.

Now, it's up to the council members to decide where the money will come from.  There is a public defender supplemental fund but it has restrictions.

"This money is not to be touched unless its declared an emergency," said Marth Vail, (R-At Large). "We don’t have the funds to come up with it unless we can possibly use this money here. We have to find some way."

The council is scheduled to meet on Nov. 8 and they will be discussing this issue.

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