Essex County Public Defender Brandon Boutelle begged supervisors Monday for more help as the number of cases moving through his office annually continue to rise.
Boutelle told the county's Public Safety Committee that in 2010 he and his lone assistant handled a whopping 958 cases - about 85 percent of the total number opened in the county. According to Boutelle, area judges - like Essex County Court Judge Richard Meyer - have begun noticing a decline in the level of representation defendants are receiving.
"He thought that we were getting to the point where our caseload is starting to affect our ability to provide representation to the folks coming before him," he said. "He suggested that he may need to assign out new cases if something doesn't break; either we get more help or caseloads start dipping."
Boutelle pleaded for the addition of another lawyer in his office, arguing that it would greatly improve constitutionally required public defense.
Several supervisors argued that a part-time addition may be the most cost-effective solution. But Boutelle countered that a new full-time staffer would best address the ailments of the county's public defense.
"Ideally, an extra full-time attorney in our office is what we'd like," he said. "While I would not turn my nose up at a part-time attorney, it's more difficult to manage. Crime and courts, they don't happen between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. every day."
Boutelle's department has also been dealt flat or slightly receding appropriations in recent county budgets. He took the job last year after the sudden death of long-time Public Defender Livingston Hatch.
Hatch ran the office with two attorneys for years.
The Essex County District Attorneys Office has five prosecutors on staff, including DA Kristy Sprague. She backed Bouttelle and argued that -quote - "short-changing justice" is a mistake.
"When we stop meeting with victims and giving them that personal touch, people are not going to get justice," she said. "They're going to be knocking on your doors complaining that the district attorney or the public defender isn't representing to the best of their abilities."
Unlike in Franklin County, the Essex County Public Defender only handles criminal cases, while those in family courts are assigned to private lawyers. Though not totally opposed to the proposal, Public Safety Committee Chairman Randy Preston wondered why it didn't come up before the 2011 budget was enacted.
"It's January 10 and this is just coming up now," Preston said.