A new proposal for public defender services and conflict counsel in Lincoln County by attorneys Dylan Frehner’s office in Pioche and former White Pine District Attorney Richard Sears of Ely was brought forth at the County Commission meeting April 6.
Frehner requested to increase the contract fee to $145,000 per year. He said, “I think the in last four years you have seen a huge difference in the work that has been performed versus the public defender’s office that used to service the county out of White Pine County.”
The new contract, he said, “provides the County with a set amount they can budget for.”
Fifteen of Nevada’s 17 counties are using private contractors as public defenders. He said the only ones that are still using the state public defenders office are Storey, and Carson City. “Counties have found they can get better service with private contractors.”
He said the District Court Judges in Ely have noted the main change they have seen “was just having someone local. Someone in jail (at the Detention Center in Pioche) could be visited quickly.”
At times in the past, Frehner noted, it might have been two or three weeks before a defendant could be visited by an attorney. “Here in Pioche, I can go just down the street. I think have been able to provide a very efficient service to those defendants.”
One of the reasons for requesting an increase in the rate of a new two-year contract is based upon the hours of times spent.
Frehner said the first year of the contract, 2011, was about 700 hours, 1100 hours in the second year, and over 1200 hours in 2014. Frehner said that was part of the reason for him hiring Shain Manuele as an associate attorney in his firm.
For the most part, the new contract is similar to the previous one, but Frehner pointed out that language has been added, “that a cap has been put on the number of public defender cases we can handle so we don’t get overburdened.”
Also, a certain amount of training is required to handle specific cases, including death penalty cases. He said, “If it is a Category A felony, then you have to have so many years as a public defender, as a District Attorney, a prosecutor, and have tried so many cases, before you are qualified to represent on those cases.” Category A felonies include first degree murder, first degree kidnapping, sexual assault, and production of child pornography.
Frehner is qualified to handle cases facing life in prison sentences, but in the Lincoln County Public Defenders office, only Richard Sears is qualified to represent a death penalty case.
Frehner explained it is normal in capital punishment cases, that two full-time qualified attorneys be assigned, to make sure the defendant is receiving full representation.
He cited a case some years ago in Nevada, where a young attorney took over the public defender’s office, and was soon faced with a death penalty case, but had no experience at all in such cases. “That could open up the County for liability for ineffective assistance of counsel,” he said.
District Attorney Daniel Hooge said he felt comfortable with the contract proposal, one for Sears and one for Frehner at the combined rate, and was accepted by the Board of Commissioners.