Beaufort News

Public defender seeks $400K increase from Beaufort County

Public Defender Gene Hood wants Beaufort County to more than double his budget next year.

Hood's office represents indigent defendants across the five-county 14th Judicial Circuit, which spans Beaufort, Jasper, Colleton, Hampton and Allendale counties. He is asking for $700,000 from Beaufort County next year. He received $300,000 this fiscal year.

It wasn't clear if Hood has requested more money from other counties. Attempts to reach him Thursday and Friday were not successful.

Hood, who is appointed, says the county reduced his allocation four years ago, but the reduction was covered with reserves the office had accrued over many years. Those reserves, he says, are now depleted.

"What I am trying to explain to you is, this money, I've got to have it in order to survive," he told a county panel last month.

Seven attorneys work in the Public Defender's Office that represent defendants in Beaufort County. Hood says each lawyer juggles about 400 cases at a time.

The public defender's request comes as Beaufort County is conducting a property-value reassessment, which could lead to less revenue, and facing another lean budget year. In addition, several other agencies that receive county money also want more funding. That includes 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone, who has requested a $600,000 increase for next fiscal year.

Stone's related request, for $152,800 in extra money to fund the office through June 30, is pending before County Council.

The council hasn't begun debate on Hood's request.

County officials asked for additional data about the Public Defender's Office, including financial records and salary information for its attorneys. The county also has sought a legal opinion about whether it must return surpluses it used to fund the defender's office.

Councilman Stu Rodman, chairman of the Finance Committee, said he expected the committee to consider Hood's request later this month.

Hood said his office handles 2,200 to 2,800 cases a year for defendants who meet eligibility rules that are based on income, household size, savings and other factors.

Follow reporter Casey Conley at twitter.com/IPBG_Casey.

Related content:

Solicitor asks for more money from Beaufort County, March 20, 2013

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