MAYVILLE - Is anyone overseeing assigned council within the Chautauqua County courts system, which has gone $797,000 over budget since 2000?
Not so, according to Legislator Bill Coughlin, D-Fredonia, who asked that question and more during a Public Safety Committee meeting.
Assigned council, which oversees legal representation for indigent defendants, has overrun its budget 10 times in the last 12 years; only twice as the assigned council budget pulled in a revenue during that time span, according to data from Coughlin.
The Democrat, who was previously the county's public defender, also expressed concern how the public defender's office was being asked to recommend attorneys during trials for indigent defendants.
"For a very long time, Chautauqua County has put its public defender in a position of involving it in unethical behavior, not purposefully," Coughlin said. "They cannot have anything to do with the assigned council budget. They can't review it, they can't look at it, they can't make recommendations, they can't do anything.
"That includes judges calling (Public Defender Ned) Barone to ask who should be assigned to cases. ... I just want to get this out in the open so it's understood Mr. Barone cannot have anything to do with the assigned council office."
Coughlin said assigning council is a job for the judge, citing the American Bar Association. Coughlin added that the scope of billing, budgets and reviews should fall onto the shoulders of the county executive.
"I'm not trying to put the blame on anybody but we have an assigned council program that is not compliant with state law," he said.
Steve Abdella, county attorney, meanwhile, said the county is in compliance with state law by having a public defender's office; he said it would be up to the legislature to officially establish an assigned council program, and whether or not such a program would save the county any money.
When the discussion became open to the floor Wednesday, Bob Duff, R-Sheridan, who vacated his post as chairman for the meeting, questioned a $10 million surplus in the 2011 budget.
"We're sick and tired of not knowing anything concerning anything in regards to what's going on in Chautauqua County government," Duff said. "And what we need is a complete group of people ... that should come in here and get the information.
"When I ask a question about a $10 million grant that no person in this room, other than Bob Duff, got it with the help of one man. ... Nobody today knows what's going on in Chautauqua County."
Duff said the county government "in whole" needs to be investigated, including the assigned council program and its budget.
Acting Chairman PJ Wendel, R-Lakewood, suggested Coughlin review a possible assigned council program and come back next month with a report.
Coughlin agreed to the task.
"I just wanted everybody to have some idea how we pay for it and who's minding the store, which isn't being minded right now," he said.