Local News

Wake County Courts Public Defender

Posted December 16, 2004

— Right now, when a person charged with a crime in Wake County cannot afford an attorney, the state appoints a private lawyer and pays the bill.

That costs nearly $4 million a year.

Starting next year, they will be represented by public defenders who work for the state.

Vaughn Winborne is one of 18 candidates who have applied for the position of chief public defender.

"I think it will be a very difficult transition, because people aren't used to it," Winborne said. "Anytime you bring in something people aren't used to, they're going to take some time to acclimate themselves to it."

"I didn't think it would ever come about in my professional lifetime in Wake County that we would have a public defender," candidate Mike Dodd said. "I've had a successful career already and I would like to end my career in public service."

The state hopes having a public defender in the courtroom will save them money, but not everyone agrees with this idea.

Some critics fear that it will actually cost more money and that it will be a challenge to staff the office.

"I really think the system we had is a good system," Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said.

Willoughby said finding qualified people for what the state is willing to pay will be a challenge.

"It's a serious problem when you have young lawyers defending people for very serious crimes and people may go to jail for long periods of time," he said.

Defense attorney Randy Hill was originally against the idea. Now, he is a candidate.

"It's difficult for the government to do as well as the private sector. Once we got it, I felt it was important to get in there and try to do the best I can to make it work," he said.

The public defenders' work in the courtroom begins July 1.

The American Bar Association in Wake County will choose the three top candidates for the job by the end of February.

Wake Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens will make the final choice from this group.


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