Editor’s Note: This is the third of 13 weekly columns on Clinton County departments leading up to the celebration of the courthouse’s 100th anniversary celebration. Today’s column features the Public Defender program.
The Clinton County Public Defender program provides legal representation to all indigent clients whom have been charged with a felony, misdemeanor, juvenile or non-support violation which may lead to incarceration.
It was established in the 1970s, originally created as a joint program — the Greene County-Clinton County Public Defender program.
When it was first established, Elaine Fife was appointed as director. Eventually, the joint program was disbanded and the Clinton County Public Defender Program was created.
Mrs. Fife was appointed as director and served in that capacity for many years until her resignation in December 1998. Joseph H. Dennis of Dennis and Williams Law Office was appointed as director, and he served until his retirement in December 2012.
Robert Baker, who served as assistant public defender since 2016, was appointed as director, and he has served as director for the past seven years.
The office has been moved several times over the years, and is currently housed in the Clinton County Courthouse, which is the final destination. A new area within the courthouse is being renovated for the Public Defender program.
Currently the office staff consists of Director Robert Baker, Assistant Public Defenders Alycia Bemmes and Firas Awadallah, and office manager Teresa Hudson, whom has been with the program for over 30 years.
The program is governed by a 5-person commission which consists of three attorneys and two lay persons; Chairman Shaun Peterson, Chaley Peelle-Griffith, Ron McHenry, Dan Hendershott and Marque Jones.
The office is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-noon and from 1-4 p.m.