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Public Defender Office coming to Mobile County

(WPMI) Public Defender Office coming to Mobile County
(WPMI) Public Defender Office coming to Mobile County

Mobile County is in the process of establishing a public defender's office for people who can't afford an attorney in criminal cases. It's a change in the current way indigent defense is handled, and not everyone is on board.

Defense attorney Habib Yazdi and many other defense attorneys NBC 15 News spoke with say they're concerned because Mobile County is in the process of switching from a system where judges appoint attorneys to cases and replacing it with a full time public defender's office, eliminating much of the appointment work in the process. Yazdi's built a career on indigent defense. He's one of a handful of attorneys we found who, this year alone, the state's paid more than six figures for legal services.

"Yes, I benefitted and I am happy with it, but my concern is indigent defendants get fair share of trial and justice," said Yazdi.

Presiding Circuit County Judge John Lockett helped push the public defender plan through the Indigent Defense Advisory Board.

"I think there will be certain inefficiencies that will be eliminated," said Lockett.

Lockett says the change could cost taxpayers more in legal fees, but he believes the switch will result is greater efficiency and potential savings elsewhere in the judicial system.

'If we move a case through the system more quickly. If we don't let them languish in jail for a longer period of time," said Lockett. "Part of the problem, we are paying attorneys to act as social workers, paying them $70 an hour that a social worker would do or paying to investigate their own cases."

Yazdi's skeptical and questions the impacts on those who can't afford an attorney.

"We need a lot of public defenders to take care of that. If it's not it will be a rocket docket, which is not fair to indigent people," said Yazdi.

The job for public defender will pay between $110,000-$150,000 thousand dollars. Applications are being accepted until October 9th. Lockett says it will likely take 18 months for the office to go into effect.

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