COLUMBUS – When the final tab for 2017-18 court-appointed attorney fees comes due in a few months, the figure won’t come as any surprise to the members of the Platte County Board of Supervisors.
Platte County Court Chief Magistrate Darla Schiefelbein gave the board a head’s up Tuesday that her office would be exceeding the line-item budget figure of $286,550 provided for attorney fees by the time the fiscal year ends June 30.
“I’m going to exceed the line item on the budget,” Schiefelbein said matter-of-factly. “I just want to be transparent with the board.”
Schiefelbein told board members her office’s overall budget may be able to absorb some of the overage, but the attorney fee line-item will be exceeded. She said the office has been averaging about $35,000 a month.
The seven-member board Tuesday voted unanimously to cover any spending overages on the attorney fees during the final four months of the budget year.
The board then referred the issue to its Judiciary Committee to explore ways the county might curb spending by forming alliances with neighboring counties.
By mid-February, the county court office had spent more than $255,000 of the funds budgeted for the fees. The office pays $95 per hour to court-appointed attorneys.
The chief magistrate's office spend $298,462 in fees during 2016-17. Schiefelbein's budget request for 2017-18 was $320,000, but that figure was sliced by about $35,000 by the board during the budget process.
A primary driver in climbing attorney fees, Schiefelbein told the board, are juvenile cases that are time and resource intensive. State lawmakers have required that expanded legal representation and family counseling services be provided in juvenile court cases.
“Juvenile cases last so much longer (than adult criminal cases),” Schiefelbein said. “It can take years.”
For instance, Schiefelbein said, a juvenile case involving a family requires a separate court-appointed attorney for the mother and father and each child. If there are more than one father or mother of the children, each of them would also receive an appointed attorney.
“You could have a juvenile case involving five or seven appointed attorneys,” Schiefelbein said. Some counties have partnered with neighboring counties to trim spending on fees, she said.
The attorney fees issue left Supervisor Jerry Micek shaking his head.
If the state wants to go into providing more juvenile court services, the state ought to pay for them in order to make it less expensive for local taxpayers, Micek said.