County public defender asks for staff raises, a part-time office assistant, another phone line

By Gary Huffenberger -

Clinton County Public Defender Robert “Rob” Baker readies for a budget meeting with the county commissioners.

WILMINGTON — During budget talks the county’s public defender requested a 4 percent increase to salaries for his staff and asked to add a part-time office assistant, partly to field phone calls.

The proposed increase in the salary line item for present staffers would be $8,214, Clinton County Public Defender Robert “Rob” Baker told county commissioners.

The office has three attorneys, counting Baker. They handle cases in common pleas, municipal, and juvenile courts for defendants who lack the financial means to retain a private attorney.

“My staff works hard for their clients and deserve to be compensated accordingly. The judges are pleased with my staff, but I will not be able to keep them if the salaries are not increased,” Baker stated in a letter he handed to the commissioners during Wednesday’s meeting with them.

A judge or their magistrate appoint the public defender’s office to a case, subject to the defendant meeting income and asset guidelines.

Baker said the public defender attorneys’ caseload has definitely increased, but he did not provide numbers to the commissioners.

In requesting a part-time assistant to aid the office’s one administrative staffer, Baker said local judges are supportive of the move.

The judges feel the county public defender’s office needs someone for 40 hours per pay period to answer phones and assist the administrative assistant “however needed,” said Baker.

According to Baker, the judges also have suggested another phone line to supplement the office’s one call line and one fax line.

“Often the courts will attempt to call and are unable to get through due to the number of incoming and outgoing calls daily,” Baker elaborated.

Clinton County Commissioner Kerry R. Steed said he is interested in seeing caseload and office workload numbers from the past three years to give commissioners an idea of how much the workload has increased to corroborate the need for raises.

As examples, he said knowing the number of clients who come into the office and the number of daily phone calls would give commissioners information to help guide their budget decisions.

Steed said the 4 percent salary raise would cost the county more than $8,200 overall because dollars also would go toward associated employee benefits and the Public Employee Retirement System. He said altogether the county would be looking at about $12,000 to $15,000 stemming from the raises.

Baker said though he couldn’t immediately give exact caseload numbers, he is certain the caseload for the three public defender attorneys exceeds the guidelines for the volume of cases for an attorney per month or per year.

Baker said information can be provided on how many hours an administrative assistant is needed. He also mentioned getting a college intern to assist with researching firm caseload numbers.

Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.

Clinton County Public Defender Robert “Rob” Baker readies for a budget meeting with the county commissioners. County Public Defender Robert “Rob” Baker readies for a budget meeting with the county commissioners.

By Gary Huffenberger