By Mark Waite
Nye County commissioners will vote on five individual contracts for indigent legal defense today, totaling about $477,500, far less than the $1.2 million the county is currently spending.
Commissioners will hold a conference call at 10 a.m. today.
The contracts weren’t available on the county’s website. But Commission Chairman Lorinda Wichman said it breaks down to one contract for $150,000, two contracts for $125,000 each — with one of those being the attorney traveling to Beatty and Tonopah — a partial-share contract for $52,500 and another contract for $25,000.
The firm of Gibson & Kuehn was willing to terminate its contract early, which doesn’t expire for a year and a half, providing three attorneys from the firm receive individual contracts.
Attorney Carl Joerger, who unsuccessfully bid for the contract in the past, said the entire public defender contract should be put up to bid. Joerger accused Gibson & Kuehn of not providing a fourth attorney as promised when their annual contract was increased $60,000 to $550,000 annually in 2009, as well as not having the proper insurance.
County commissioners interviewed Wednesday applauded District Attorney Brian Kunzi for proposing dividing up the contracts. Conflict attorneys have cost the county $700,000 in addition to Gibson & Kuehn’s annual $550,000 contract.
Commissioner Dan Schinhofen said he wants more information from the DA before making his decision.
“What he wants to accomplish with this is a good idea. I have my reservations. I’m trying to get those answered,” Schinhofen said. “Whether it’s those individuals or not, that’s when I have reservations.”
Schinhofen wouldn’t disclose which attorneys with whom he had problems awarding individual contracts. Commissioners at the last meeting suggested County Manager Pam Webster have authority for running the public defender program, but Schinhofen said the contracts would be too large to give Webster authority to approve on her own.
“I have spoken to the district attorney. I reviewed the documents that he’s going to have us approve during tomorrow’s meeting and I have complete confidence in his recommendation,” said Commissioner Joni Eastley, who will be in her last meeting.
Eastley said as an appointee to the rural subcommittee on indigent defense by the governor she’s aware of the astronomical costs to the counties.
“I agree with the district attorney’s recommendations and I support them wholeheartedly. I don’t have any comments on Mr. Joerger’s accusations. I am not responsible for making sure that contractual obligations are met. But he’s more than welcome to take his complaints to the county manager,” Eastley said.
When Joerger complained that he and other conflict attorneys were unaware of the commission’s plan at the last meeting, Wichman told him county agendas are posted on the Internet.
“The one thing that I think the public misses, a lot of times people have complained about not going out to contract or going out to bid for certain things. We’re not required to do that on professional services. That allows us to work with people who are members of the community and who are proven,” Wichman said.
The county has not had any problems with Gibson & Kuehn, other than the budget, she said.
“The budget and what we have been spending on indigent defense is way out of control and the way those rules are written,” Wichman said.