Tonawanda News

February 24, 2013

Seventh part-time 'conflict' attorney OK'd by legislature

Staff reports
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — LOCKPORT — The Niagara County Legislature has approved creation of a seventh part-time “conflict” attorney to represent impoverished residents in criminal and family court proceedings.

The attached salary is $47,000. There are no fringe benefits for the new hire, according to the hiring motion.

The Assigned Counsel and Conflict Administrator’s Office employs attorneys to take on poor residents’ legal defense work in cases where public defenders cannot, due to conflicts of interest.

Say, for instance, two people need defense in the same case. The public defender’s office can only represent one; the other will be defended by a conflict attorney or private counsel on the county’s dime.

The Assigned Counsel office’s caseload has increased significantly over the past few years, according to 10th District Legislator David Godfrey, chairman of the legislature’s community safety and security committee.

Meanwhile the state Office of Indigent Legal Services has put up new, tougher standards for the provision of conflict-defense services. Niagara is hiring another attorney “to maintain manageable work loads (and) help ensure quality representation” as is directed in those new standards, Godfrey said.

Legislators Dennis Virtuoso and Owen Steed, both D-Niagara Falls, voted against hiring another conflict attorney.

The county should be looking at alternatives to adding more people to the payroll, such as sharing conflict defense services with another county, Virtuoso said.

The Legislature OK’d creation of a conflict counsel stable in 2006-07 to cut spending on private attorneys, according to 1st District Legislator Clyde Burmaster, R-Ransomville. The difference in pay is about $30 per hour versus $75 per hour for private counsel, he said. Cumulative savings from that move is about $2 million, he added.

In other business last week, the Legislature:

• Awarded the job of building a regulation-size basketball court at Krull Park to American Paving & Excavating Inc. of Clarence Center, which submitted the low bid of $46,850 for the work. Eleven area companies submitted offers up to $73,000.

Funding for the basketball court comes from Coca Cola, whose online “best” American parks poll last year netted a $50,000 second prize for Krull Park.

• Approved county environmental coordinator Dawn Timm’s appointment as interim administrator of the refuse disposal district, for a salary bump of $773 per month, through the end of this year. 

Timm is holding down two posts after the January resignation of longtime refuse district director Richard Pope.

• Approved an allocation of 150 kilowatts of low-cost power to 525 Wheat LLC, an expanding laser engraving operation in North Tonawanda. The allocation is from Empower Niagara, a county-run program that re-grants shares of the county’s nine-megawatt allocation from New York Power Authority for economic development purposes.

The way the program works, the county sells its power and uses the money to help selected businesses pay their electric bills, up to the value of their kilowatt grants, for up to three years. The 150 kW grant to 525 Wheat LLC is worth an estimated $46,000 this year.