By Josh Mitchell
Corinth Today News Editor
Corinth public defender John Windsor said there are some good ideas in a new report about improving legal representation for Mississippi defendants who cannot afford their own attorney.
“I think a number of these (recommendations) could be beneficial, but there’s a funding issue,” Windsor said.
He was speaking about the final report of the three-year Mississippi Public Defender Task Force, which was guided by the Sixth Amendment Center and the Defender Initiative.
Alcorn County, Tishomingo and Prentiss counties do not have full-time public defenders while some Mississippi counties do, including Jackson County.
Public defenders in Alcorn County are private practice attorneys who are appointed to defend indigent defendants. They also work with mental health commitments, youth court and other matters.
A proposed reorganization plan was submitted to the state Legislature in June, and one aspect called for the creation of a Public Defender Oversight Council. Click here to see the full report.
Windsor feels there are public defenders available at every step of the court process in Alcorn County. But some people who get the taxpayer-funded legal service may have the means to pay for it themselves, he noted.
He has about 150 active cases at any time.
There could possibly be a better financial screening process to determine who should be economically eligible, Windsor said. The other option is to add another public defender, but that would be an additional cost, he said.
Regardless of these issues, Windsor said public defenders in Alcorn and surrounding counties provide quality representation to their clients.
“I think they get a good defense under the current (system),” Windsor said. “There’s always ways to improve the system.”
For instance, some people may have the money to pay a divorce attorney but then rely on a publicly funded attorney for criminal defense.
“Without a state-level body setting objective standards and evaluating systems under those standards the people of the state of Mississippi will never know if or to what extent the indigent defense system suffers from waste, fraud or abuse,” the report said.
Mississippi counties spend a total of more than $15 million on felony defense annually compared to more than $25 million spent by the state on felony prosecution, it added.
Potential conflicts of interest between judges and public defenders were also cited by the task force.
“Mississippi is the only state that leaves judges to select, supervise and set the budgets for indigent defense service providers,” the report stated.
This raises concerns about “shielding lawyers from undue judicial interference,” it added.
But Windsor said he has not seen any problems locally regarding conflicts of interest between judges and public defenders. Local public defenders are focused on providing the client with the best representation, he added.
Other public defenders in Alcorn County include Tyler Moss, Gregory Meyer and Clay Nails.