Lancaster County Indigent Defense Advisory
Lancaster County Indigent Defense Advisory Committee
In March of 1995, an ad hoc committee, established by Public Defender Dennis Keefe to review the costs of assigned counsel in the courts of Lancaster County, presented a report to the Lancaster County Board. The committee had examined a variety of alternatives to the current system of providing defense services.
One of the recommendations which came from that committee involved the appointment of an indigent defense advisory committee to advise the public defender and the Lancaster County Board on issues relating to the indigent defense system. By resolution, the county board created the Lancaster County Indigent Defense Advisory Committee on April 11, 1995 and appointed its first members on May 9, 1995.
Karen Flowers was appointed chair of the committee and other members included Ken Stephen, Jim Bausch, Peter Katt and Jim Mowbray. In September of 1996, Karen Flowers was appointed to the District Court bench and at about the same time, Jim Mowbray was appointed Director of the Nebraska Department of Public Advocacy. Sean Brennan and Virginia Johnson were appointed by the Lancaster County Board of Commissioners to replace them on the Committee. In 1998, Andrew Strotman was appointed to replace Jim Bausch and in 1999, Randy Goyette was appointed to replace Peter Katt.
The advisory committee also followed up on another recommendation of the ad hoc committee and proposed to the county court judges that a more formal process for determining indigency with standards be implemented. The Lancaster County Board approved the hiring of a verification specialist to assist the judges. In early 2000, the County Board agreed to fund a three year trial project for an indigency screener, using Keno funds. A meeting was held between the County Commissioners and Chief Justice Hendry who supported the idea of such a pilot project using a court rule.
Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy
In 1995, the Nebraska Legislature passed and Governor Nelson signed L.B. 646, a bill establishing the Commission on Public Advocacy. Lancaster County Public Defender Dennis Keefe was instrumental in the passage of this legislation, which was one of the recommendations of the 1993 task force. This agency was to provide assistance to the counties in major cases through the direct services of staff attorneys. The Legislature appropriated funds for the 96-97 biennium at a $500,000 per year level with anticipated county reimbursement of one-third. Since its inception, this agency has saved Lancaster County about $100,000 per year in private attorney fees in felony cases.