The Maryland Public Defender's office, pressed this year with an increasing caseload and the high cost of fighting death penalty cases, has run out of funds and may be forced to lay off a large number of employes next week, according to the chief public defender, Alan H. Murrell.
However, the office, which provides attorneys to represent indigent clients in criminal cases, has asked for emergency funding from the state. Don Nave, deputy secretary of the state Office of Budget and Fiscal Planning, said yesterday his office will likely recommend that the public defender receive some emergency funds.
The state Board of Public Works, which meets next Wednesday, would have to approve the use of any emergency funds. Murrell said he is seeking about $209,000 to carry the office to the end of this fiscal year on June 30. The office has an $11 million budget.
The public defender's office has run out of funds before the end of the fiscal year for a number of years, according to Murrell. He said the state has "never adequately funded" the office, which cannot turn down indigent clients and must represent anyone who qualifies for its services.
Murrell said the funding problems were worse this year because his office has been handling 31 cases in which the death penalty was sought.
These cases often involve a lengthy appeals process, and Murrell estimated that each case costs his office about $100,000.
J. Theodore Wieseman, the public defender for Montgomery County, said that if emergency funding does not come through, he will be forced to lay off about one-third of his staff.
The funding problem would not affect fulltime staff attorneys, but would effect people hired under contract, such as clerks and secretaries, and private attorneys who work for the office and are paid on a daily basis, according to Wieseman. These attorneys do most of the defense work in the county District Court, which hears misdemeanor cases, such as drunk driving or petty thefts.