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Representation by a Harford County public defender at bail review hearings ceased for a day because of confusion over an expected budget cut.

But the cut, which probably would have resulted in more defendants spending time in jail while they await trial, didn’t materialize.

Since the mid-1990s, Harford County’s public defender’s office has had a position designated to handle bail review hearings.

The position is partially funded by inmate services project grant money through the Harford County Law Department.

In fiscal year 2009, the county contributed $24,948, which covers one third of the position. The rest of the money came from within the public defender’s office funded by the state. This money covers the cost of the attorney, including benefits.

“Our agency is a state agency so we’re not typically affected by the county budget,” said Kelly Casper, district public defender for Harford County.

This year the agency was affected by county budget cuts in addition to cuts in state funding.

Until Wednesday, the public defender’s office believed that the position would be eliminated entirely. Casper remarked about the expected cut during Tuesday’s bail reviews in District Court.

Though no public defender attended the bail review hearings Wednesday, it turns out the the county’s share of funding for the position is still in the budget for the 2010 fiscal year that began Wednesday.

“At the end of the day, the money was available to fund it,” Harford County Attorney Robert McCord said.

Early Wednesday afternoon, Casper still believed the funding had been eliminated.

“We’re obviously trying to look at other grant sources but there’s no commitment at this point,” she said.

The bail review position provides legal representation and allows for initial client contact. Judges take into consideration the verified information relayed by the public defender when considering bail. In some cases, this means lowered bail or release for a defendant.

While it is not a requirement to send an attorney to bail review hearings, it is a benefit and a service that deputy public defender for Harford County John Janowich feels should be provided.

“It’s important to have representation in all stages of the legal process,” Janowich said.

Even so, Harford County is one of only a few jurisdictions in the state that sends a public defender to bail reviews.

“It can mean the difference between being released and siting in jail for a month or so,” Janowich said of the practice.

Casper estimated the county has saved approximately $295,000 in bed space on inmates who have been released on their own recognizance after bail review hearings.

“I can’t say that every single dollar of that is because of us, but that is the amount saved from judges lowering the bails,” she said.

Casper feels that not having a public defender at bail review hearings would ultimately cost the county more money than it takes to fund the position.

Casper also predicted that without the position, the inmate population of the detention center will increase.

Neither of these adverse effects will apparently take place in the new fiscal year because the money needed stayed in the law department budget.

“The grant had been in the law department’s budget and this year I was anticipating that it would be used up in budget cutting and it wasn’t,” McCord explained Wednesday evening.

Casper said she got the call early Wednesday evening that funding would be available after all. Now the public defender and county attorney are looking into whose budget the money should be placed in the future.

“It seems a little out of place in the law office budget,” McCord said.

Fiscal year 2010 sets aside $24,948 for the bail review position in the public defender’s office. This is the same amount that has been designated since 2008.


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