Lincoln County’s contract for public defender services from attorneys Dylan Frehner and Shane Manuele in Pioche for another year was approved by the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners on Monday.
In presenting his request to the board, Frehner said there have been efforts made at the state legislature to create a bill that would require the state to do all indigent legal services.
Commissioner Kevin Phillips said that has been the case in years past with the state handling these services, and it created many problems.
He related that he talked, for a short time, recently during a meeting sponsored by the Nevada Association of Counties, on which he sits, with a person very much in support of the idea of the state doing the public defender work. He said some of the members of the Nevada Supreme Court, principally Chief Justice Michael Cherry, would like to have the indigent legal services done under the oversight of one office based in Carson City.
However, Phillips recalled, when the state was doing all public defender work some years ago, numerous problems arose. And he told the person he was talking to, “they didn’t respond to our calls, didn’t come when you wanted them to, were always late, and more expensive. You’d get a trial set and they wouldn’t show up to defend your guy. There were all kinds of problems, and what is better about that?”
The response he was given amounted to that a public defender from a central state office would be better because the defense is “more uniform, more appropriate, more professional.” Such remarks could be viewed as a direct slap in the face to many rural lawyers.
Phillips noted it was “very expensive when the state was handling everything, and you had no choice. You paid X dollars, period, and was more than what we pay now. So, we went out like almost every other county and hired our own attorneys to do the public defender work. I don’t know very many counties that are really in favor of doing that again. They don’t seem to be able to handle the logistics of travel, distance, and the commitment to do that.”
Frehner said he is under the impression that judges of the 7th Judicial District Court out of Ely, “in fact all rural judges, are very adamant about keeping the private attorney as the public defender.”
Frehner said Nevada Supreme Court Chief Justice Cherry is pushing to have a public defender’s office have an oversight committee and allow the public defender’s office to hire public attorneys to cover their work in the rural areas whereas before they were not able to.
Phillips noted later, the great fear of the justices seems to be that receiving “equal protection under the law,” as guaranteed by the Constitution, might cause some person who felt they were not, or had not been, adequately defended, to sue the state of Nevada.