State budget cuts mean the Office of the State Public Defender is freezing salaries and reducing pay to contractors.
Testifying before the state Legislature’s Law and Justice Interim Committee Tuesday, Harry Freeborn, the head of the Montana public defender's office says the budget that lawmakers and the governor gave him is smaller than in previous years.
“We have a $10 million shortfall that we’re trying to deal with,” Freeborn says.
Freeborn says that in order to deal with the smaller budget, the public defender's office has frozen pay increases for employees. And starting March 1, it will reduce how much it pays outside investigators, attorneys, and other support staff in defense cases, by about 10 percent.
Public defenders contract out casework when there is a possible conflict of interest in the case, or when their own caseload is too heavy.
Agency staff say there is the possibility of public defender caseloads growing if these pay cuts to providers are implemented.
During the regular 2017 legislative session, public defenders expressed concern about budget reductions impacting their job in providing constitutionally guaranteed legal services.