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Seneca County acts to improve defense for people who can’t afford attorneys




TIFFIN — The Seneca County Board of Commissioners agreed Thursday to increase the hourly rate for indigent defense counsel for the first time since 2014.

Indigent defense provides services to defendants who cannot afford legal counsel on their own. Seneca County has been previously ranked as the county with the lowest “cap” for indigent defense in the state.

The commissioners increased the rate from $55 an hour for in-court work and $45 for out-of-court work, to $60 an hour for both.

Two years ago, the County Commissioners Association of Ohio made increasing indigent defense funding its top legislative priority for the FY2020/2021 state budget. Seneca County supported this. This led to an additional $154 million in the state budget for indigent defense reimbursement to counties.

Although the county says people were receiving fair legal representation before, the commissioners believe making the change will continue to ensure that the Constitutional rights of constituents are preserved.

“This is the culmination of two years’ worth of effort working with our state association and the Ohio legislature to increase funding for indigent defense,” Commissioner Shayne Thomas said. “Our obligation is to continue to support a citizen’s right to a fair trial. This move will allow us to have a healthy legal community into the future. In an effort to reduce regulatory burden, we will make in court and out of court charges the same and value the work of our attorneys consistently.”

Before the commissioners decided Thursday, Seneca County Common Pleas Court Judge Steve Shuff recommended on behalf of all county judges that the commissioners adopt the $60 hourly rate.

Rough estimates calculated by commissioners’ office staff show that even with the increase in the hourly rate, because of the state’s increased financial commitment, the county’s spending should be less than it was in 2019, 2018 and 2017.

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