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February 24, 2013

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

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.

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