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Faulkner County diverted $350K from public defender’s office

January 3, 2019

CONWAY, Ark. (AP) — A county in central Arkansas won’t reimburse its public defender’s office for more than $350,000 of funding that officials diverted to other entities over almost two decades.

Faulkner County attorney David Hogue told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the county’s Quorum Court has agreed to end the practice of transferring money from the defender’s office to other programs. But the court declined to reimburse any of the remaining money.

Without the funding, the 20th Judicial Circuit public defender’s office doesn’t have enough money to hire an investigator or a legal secretary, chief public defender Lynn Plemmons said.

The prosecuting attorney’s office will return $23,500 of the defender’s funding, but it’s not enough to cover hiring costs.

Plemmons first discovered the money transfers after he started checking past budgets when he took over the circuit position in February. Plemmons found the first transfer took place in 2001 and moved nearly $133,500 from the defender’s investigator fund to a county judge construction fund.

The county has since transferred around $220,400 total from the investigator fund to the prosecuting attorney’s victim witness fund, according to Plemmons. Each year, the transfers to the prosecutor’s office vary in amount, starting with $3,100 in 2004. Subsequent transfers range from zero in 2006 to $25,000 in 2017 and $15,000 last year.

The public defender’s office is financed “exclusively by court costs, filing fees and bail bond fees,” according to Plemmons. The investigator fund had received nearly $389,800 from court costs and filing fees before being depleted.

Justice of the Peace Steve Goode said he doesn’t know that the county has “the ability to make up what’s happened in the past.” But he said, “We would certainly want to do it right in the future.”

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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