Wyandotte County has one of the highest felony caseloads in the state, but it doesn’t have a public defender’s office dedicated to provided legal support for individuals who can’t afford a private attorney. With favorable support from a number of sources, it’s a situation that will finally change in 2024.
The State Board of Indigent Defense Services (BIDS), which is responsible for providing public defense services through public defender’s offices, voted late last month to open the office after community members showed overwhelming support for it at a public hearing in late January.
Wyandotte District Attorney Mark Dupree has long advocated for bringing a public defender’s office to the county. Last year, concerned with disparities in the criminal justice system, in their initial report, Gov. Laura Kelly’s recommended counties with populations greater than 100,000 have a public defender’s office.
Last year, BIDS approved a public defender’s office in Douglas County that has a population of 118,000. Yet, Wyandotte, a county with a population of 165,245, only has contracted attorneys, was forced to stick with a public defense process that has attorneys assigned to cases by judges.
Dupree said this way of assigning attorneys to cases creates an appearance of impropriety. For example, when an elected judge appoints private, contracted attorneys who have donated to their campaigns, it could look like favoritism to the community.
In addition, Dupree said private attorneys have to wait until after a case is closed before receiving payment, which could motivate attorneys to plea cases and finish them quickly.
Dupree said having a public defender’s office, where the employees receive a steady paycheck could help reduce the potential for abuse.
“A properly funded public defender’s office in Wyandotte County would not only address inequities, but would assure efficiency, oversight, and fiscal responsibility,” Dupree said.