Wyandotte County doesn’t have a public defender’s office. That could change

·3 min read
Aarón Torres/The Kansas City Star.

Mark Dupree did not let an interruption stop him from making his point: Wyandotte County should have a public defender’s office.

“I’m used to the devil getting mad at me,” the district attorney said Saturday at Kansas City, Kansas Community College.

The Kansas State Board of Indigents’ Defense Services held a public hearing at the school to consider establishing a felony public defender’s office in the county.

The board will vote on whether to recommend installing a public defender’s office. The vote will likely take place in February.

Dupree was one of at least a dozen residents who spoke to the board. Some like Dupree advocated for the need for public defenders. Others voiced opposition.

As he spoke, however, a member of the public started yelling at him, accusing him of not doing his job properly. The man left the hearing on his own.

Wyandotte County does not have a public defender’s office. Instead people accused of committing crimes are issued court-appointed attorneys by judges in the county.

Ever since he was elected as district attorney in 2016, one of the issues Dupree has hoped to address the lack of a public defender’s office.

“The facts are we have individuals, Black, brown, white, broke, all in the system who are sitting in jail and they do not have adequate representation,” Dupree said. “And the study we did showed we literally have attorneys who are not requesting bond reductions.”

In a letter Dupree penned Friday, he cited a report from the Commission on Racial Equity and Justice which recommended counties with at least 100,000 people have a public defender’s office.

Wyandotte County has a population of at least 165,429, according to census data. Of the largest counties in Kansas, Wyandotte County has the largest minority population and the highest poverty rates.

The letter also said that a person arrested for a crime is in custody for an average of 16 days before an attorney is appointed.

“Any time that the bench, prosecutors, law enforcement are at the table, there should be a seat there for a public defender,” said Melody Brannon, a federal public defender for the District of Kansas. “A public defender has a different perspective and experience than a private counsel, who also provides truly public defense for those people they’re appointed to.”

While most of the speakers were in favor of a public defender’s office, there were others who were against it.

Mike Nichols, who said he’s a court-appointed attorney for the county, said he missed his daughter’s soccer game to attend the hearing. Nichols said he’s been a court-appointed attorney for more than 11 years and that he agrees there are issues that need to be addressed.

But he continued, a divide has been created. He said it would be wrong to use 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, to judge how long it took cases to go to trial.

“I know because I had a trial set at the end of March of 2020, one that did not get tried until September of 2021,” Nichols said.

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