Proposal to Revamp Public Defender Staff Approved By Legislative Committee
In an effort to improve efficiency, reduce costs, and better serve clients in the Cortland County Public Defender’s Office, lawmakers have tentatively approved eliminating two secretary positions and creating two paralegal jobs.
Amid accusations that the move to cut the two secretaries was retribution for the employee’s support of former County Public Defender Keith Dayton, lawmakers voted in favor of the proposal.
Current Public Defender Ed Goehler laid out his case for making the change before the legislatures’ Judiciary and Public Safety Committee which oversees the department.
Goehler says when the secretary positions were created in the late 1980s the office was much different than it is today. The secretary positions are limited in what duties they can perform, they cannot draft legal correspondence or answer routine legal questions over the phone, and in turn this creates more work for the attorneys in the office and contributes to the backlog of cases.
Goehler says the decision to make the change has nothing to do with Dayton or Dayton’s lawsuits against the county.
Dayton, the embattled former Public Defender has been involved in multiple lawsuits against the county; the latest involves a $14 thousand dollar claim against the county for unused vacation pay. Dayton served as the Public Defender for 12 years but was not reappointed last year.
Goehler feels that by switching to paralegal positions indigent clients will see a higher level of service and it may reduce the need to hire more attorneys to keep up with ever growing caseload in that office. In addition because the paralegals will be hired at a lower salary than the current secretaries it is expected to save taxpayers $11 thousand dollars at least in the first year, eventually through annual salary increases the positions may cost more than the current secretaries.
County Administrator Martin Murphy is in support of the plan; he says the potential cost savings are substantial.
The two secretaries would go on a preferred hiring list with the county and would have the opportunity to move into other secretarial positions that may be open or open up, they could also bump a hire with less seniority.
The proposal must pass the full legislature on the 24th.