The Wyoming County Commissioners received an update regarding operations in the public defender’s office over the past year.
Tim Michaels, adult public defender, attended Tuesday’s commissioners meeting to share the details of his first 14 months on the job.
About 80 percent of people charged with a crime in Wyoming County qualify for a public defender, he said, and 90-95 percent of people who apply qualify, so few are turned away.
Approximately 400 criminal cases went through the public defender’s office in the past year, being handled by Michaels and the assistant public defender who plans to leave soon.
These crimes range from disorderly conduct to more serious crimes such as murder.
“Those cases are extremely complicated,” he said. “They take a great deal of time.”
At this time, the office oversees around 220 active criminal cases and is responsible for about the same amount of former clients on probation or parole.
“We give referrals to former clients even though we technically no longer represent them,” Michaels said.
Making sure to have the office available for clients, he added three phone lines to the office’s existing line.
A majority of clients have been reaching sentencing on a timely basis, changing the average of 220 days to 70-90 days, although he said a lag still exists in the system that can be improved.
The jail population has also decreased, he said, though he noted that these decreases don’t mean cases aren’t being thoroughly handled.
Michaels also believes that the public defender’s office has helped clients prepare for and understand their cases to a point of satisfaction, with only one person requesting an appeal in the last year.
He also told the commissioners that approximately 76 percent of cases that go through the system are misdemeanor cases, and one third or more of them could be resolved at the magistrate level.
“Very few cases get resolved at the magistrate level,” he said. “Other counties do it and it’s the first line of defense in saving money for a county.”
Following Michaels’ report, Jesse Hallinan, an attorney with North Penn Legal Services, was hired as the county’s new assistant public defender.
Endless Mountains Heritage Region Executive Director Cain Chamberlin was also present on Tuesday to share details of the Facade and Signage Program in partnership with the Route 6 Alliance.
The program is geared toward revitalizing streetscapes along the Route 6 corridor.
Chamberlin explained that it’s a matching grant program, requiring a 50/50, dollar-for-dollar match by the applicant.
Each application would be for up to $5,000, meaning a project would need to cost $10,000 or more, and areas can receive reimbursements for improvements made prior to the program.
“We are more than happy to support this project,” Commissioner Tom Henry said.
After hearing a complaint during the public comment portion of the meeting about Verizon customers having poor phone reception in areas of Wyoming County, Henry said the commissioners would write a letter to the company in hopes of rectifying issues.
Additionally, Lori Bennett brought up concerns about Roadside Rest Park on Route 29, citing intoxicated individuals, trash and needles in the area.
While the park has been locked up on the weekends, she asked if there are any plans for it.
Henry said he has heard complaints from people who live nearby, and while the state leases the property and is ultimately responsible, a meeting with Eaton Township supervisors, the commissioners and PennDOT will hopefully find a solution.
In the Wyoming County Prison Board portion of the meeting, Deputy Warden Gordon Traveny said the correctional facility currently houses 54 men and 17 women, totaling 71 inmates.
The correctional facility has two inmates boarded out in Susquehanna and Lackawanna Counties.
In June, the county spent $12,425 boarding out inmates, with $44,105 spent so far this year.
The correctional facility has been short staffed lately with employees needing to work overtime, he said, but everyone has been doing their best to keep operations running smoothly.
Michaels requested that Warden Ken Repsher, who was absent on Tuesday, supply a set of requirements for the prison’s work release program.
Denials for the work release program aren’t always consistent, making him unsure of when to encourage his clients to apply.
Additionally, Michaels suggested improvements to Wyoming County’s programs, as other counties help inmates with employment, housing and other assistance once they’re released.
Solicitor Paul Litwin said he would look into this, and the board approved a motion to have the work release policy outlined in writing.
The prison board also hired the following as part-time correctional officers: Catherine LoBuono, effective Aug. 19; Kurt Steele, effective Aug. 26; and Amber Collett, effective Sept. 3.
At the request of 911 Director Jeff Porter, the commissioners promoted Samantha Roszel to telecommunicator I at $15.30 per hour during their regular meeting.
The commissioners voted not to renew a lease for Indigo to continue using the county’s cell towers, as the company has been difficult to work with and there are other interested customers.
The commissioners also ratified a risk pool ordinance that was tabled earlier this month to allow more time for review.
The Wyoming County Commissioners are scheduled to meet again on Tuesday, Sept. 3 at 9 a.m.