(KCPW News) The non-profit group that staffs Salt Lake County's public defenders for felony cases is asking for additional funding to handle a recent uptick in capital homicide cases. With 10 capital cases underway, Salt Lake Legal Defender Association Director Patrick Anderson says any new capital defendants could be turned away at this point.
"We'll have to look very seriously whether we really can provide the services and have the resources to represent that individual," Anderson says. "If we determine that we don't have those resources, and we're too stressed, it might be that we would have to decline representation and the county would then have to hire someone privately."
A private attorney could cost the county about $120,000 or more per case.
Anderson will ask the county council today for $37,000 to fund half a year's salary for an additional mitigation specialist. These specially trained social workers investigate whether capital defendants' life circumstances played a role in their alleged criminal behavior. Anderson says beefing up his mitigation specialist department would make it easier for the current staff of attorneys to handle a larger caseload.
"Now the mitigation specialists take up a lot of slack for the attorneys," Anderson says. "And so that's why we're requesting another mitigation specialist instead of an attorney because we felt that would give us a little more bang and the county more bang for their buck."
Anderson says hiring a mitigation specialist is not only less expensive, but candidates for the job will be easier to find. With salaries starting at about $80,000 per year, he says it's difficult to find attorneys trained for death penalty cases who are willing to work for non-profit wages.