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October 15, 2013

Incomplete paperwork causing Franklin County Public Defender's Office backlog

MALONE — Public Defender Thomas Soucia is seeking grant funding to ensure that Franklin County residents who need free legal help get it.

At the same time, he’s on a campaign to educate potential clients about applying for help sooner instead of at the last minute so the proper attention can be paid to each case.

Soucia said that if his office does not have enough time to thoroughly go over the details and prepare for court appearances, it could mean the clients lose custody of their children or go to prison or are deported.

A one-page application is available at every municipal court, the Public Defender’s Office and under the office’s link on the county’s website at www.franklincony.org.

It asks basic identifying information, what court is involved and the person’s income and assets. 

A checklist of required documents is furnished on the back of the application.

INCOMPLETE PAPERWORK

But Assigned Counsel Coordinator Jill Dyer said half the people who applied for free public-defender services in the past nine months did not include at least one of the required documents needed to determine their eligibility.

“The assumption is, if we had the person as an old client, we represent them forever,” Soucia said. “But if it’s a new charge, it’s a new case, and we might not know about it.

“We usually know what’s going on in people’s lives, but if it’s a new charge, we need to hear from them sooner and get a complete story of what’s going on. It’s to their benefit.

“It’s a concern for me because we can’t give them the representation they deserve without notice,” Soucia said, “especially when the other side is represented by counsel and is prepared.

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