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The Public Servant
The newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Government Lawyers

April 2002, vol. 3, no. 3

ISBA supports increase for public defender salaries

House Bill 549 was passed by the General Assembly to amend section 3-4007 of the Counties Code. As submitted to the Governor, the bill requires that the State pay 66 2/3 percent of the public defender's salary for every county. The bill further provides that a full-time county public defender's salary must be 90 percent or more of the State's attorney's salary in that county and that when a public defender in a county of 30,000 or more in population is receiving not less than 90 percent of the compensation of the State's attorney in that county, the public defender shall not engage in the private practice of law.

On August 10, 2001, Governor George H. Ryan returned House Bill 549 to the General Assembly with an amendatory veto. Although Ryan expressed his support for the bill, noting in his veto message, that "[t]he passage of this legislation represents another victory for criminal justice reform and is a vital step towards a more fair, just and accurate criminal justice system[,]" the Governor delayed the bill's effective date until July 1, 2002, so that the General Assembly would have time to appropriate "the necessary funds ... to put this important criminal justice reform into effect ." In postponing the legislation's effective date, the Governor encouraged "counties to take advantage of the time from now until the beginning of the next fiscal year, when the State intends to begin funding this initiative, to plan how to best utilize these funds to improve public defender offices and their services." The Governor cautioned, that "[w]hile not explicitly stated in this legislation, the State funding that this bill will make possible is meant to supplement county budgets for their public defenders, not replace it. The State funding contemplated by this legislation will free up county funds which should then be used to leverage other criminal justice improvements by funding programs and services that will further enhance the quality of defender services in each county. To simply work a budget reallocation of State funds for already allocated and expended county funds, would be acting contrary to the intent and will of the Illinois General Assembly and the Governor of this State."

The General Assembly voted to accept the Governor's amendatory veto. House Bill 549, which as enacted became Public Act 92-508, is effective July 1, 2002.

House Bill 549 originated from a recommendation of the Task Force on Professional Practice in the Illinois Justice Systems. This Task Force, chaired by the Honorable J. William Roberts and staffed by the Illinois State Bar Association, recognized that the State of Illinois and its 102 counties must develop a partnership to provide public safety and discharge the State's obligations for competent counsel at the trial level. The Task Force noted the State's practice of funding 66 2/3 percent of a State's attorney's salary by providing dollar-for-dollar reimbursement to the county treasurer and the lack of parity for the public defender's office. The Task Force and the ISBA have suggested that the State must develop a process for supporting the criminal justice system by assisting counties in the provision of indigent defense at the trial level. As recommended by the Task Force and lobbied for by the ISBA, one method for accomplishing this is for the State to reimburse the counties for a portion of public defender salaries.