WEBER COUNTY, Utah (ABC4) – A murder trial is being pushed back in Weber County as a result of one-third of the public defense attorneys leaving for new jobs. However, the county acted quickly to prevent this from happening to other cases and may soon be the first county in Utah to have a full-time Public Defender’s Office.
“I’ve been with the county for about seven years, and this is the first time we’ve had a turnover like this,” Weber County Deputy Attorney Bryan Baron told ABC4. He explained that recently five of the county’s 15 public defense lawyers announced that they would be leaving at the end of October. Three accepted positions at Davis County and the other two already had plans to leave.
“It definitely creates some hiccups,” Baron said. Hiccups like making sure those waiting for a hearing keep their right to a speedy trial. Baron told ABC4 that the county is doing a few things to be proactive.
When the five attorneys put in their notice of leave, Baron said the county asked them to continue on with upcoming trials “And handle that trial. We’d be willing to enter an additional contract with them and pay them an hourly rate just to see that case through,” he adds.
Baron said that worked for most cases. However, he explained one murder trial that was scheduled to begin in November is being pushed back until the new attorney is caught up on the case. He said the current attorney has a conflict in scheduling that does not allow him to remain on the case.
The county also has replacements lined up to step in as soon as the five attorneys leave. Baron told ABC4 that the county always accepts resumes for public defenders. This means when an attorney leaves the county, there are potential candidates already in the county’s system.
“I think in most instances, we’re hiring attorneys who have experience, who are competent, who can pick up these cases and really jump right in and get going on them right from the get-go,” stated Baron.
Baron said county leaders were also looking to the future of how public defenders work in the county. He explained that a resolution the county commissioners passed in September allows for the creation of a full-time public defenders office.
Baron explained that this is important because across Utah, all counties contract outside attorneys to work as public defenders. This is no different in Weber County. The current public defenders have their own practices or work for other practices along with working for the county. This means they do not have an office provided by the county to work together. That will change under the resolution.
Baron told ABC4 that Weber County will be the first in the state to have a full-time Public Defender’s Office which he said will allow for more efficient handling of cases. He added, “And the real advantage to it that I see is that when all of those attorneys are in the same office, they can collaborate on cases together than they can when they’re in individual offices.”
According to Baron, the county appointed a board to create the Public Defenders’ Office. The board is currently looking for a director who will then fill the open attorney positions. Baron said it is likely that many of the full-time defense attorneys will be fairly new lawyers. He explained that the county will most likely continue to contract outside attorneys while the open positions are filled and while the new hires get some experience with the county. He explained that in cases where there are conflicts of interest with the county, contracted attorneys will be used.