A Neligh man raised concerns this week on who is responsible for paying court expenditures in the prosecution of criminal cases.
“I’m trying to understand the process,” Don Meadows told the Antelope County Supervisors on Tuesday morning.
County Attorney Joe Abler explained that the county is required to pay expenses authorized by the judge in county court. Abler gave an example in context of a current case where Judge Mark Johnson granted Ron Temple and his office $7500 to hire an expert to defend Darryl Lierman, who is accused of 10 felonies, including sexual assault of a child.
“The judge left it open there that if there is more needed, Mr. Temple and his office representing a criminal defendant has to then file a motion and get court approval for additional expenses,” Abler said.
County Clerk Lisa Paine clarified questions about how that payment works, saying that the county pays claims for services that are already rendered.
In the case Abler cited as the example, Temple and Frederick Bartell and the firm of Fitzgerald, Vetter, Temple & Bartell filed a motion to withdraw as counsel for Darryl Lierman of Neligh. The motion cited §3-503.7 of the Nebraska Rules of Professional Conduct, which refers to conflict as “Lawyer As Witness.”
Paine said payment from the county occurs after work is complete.
“We take an invoice or statement, or what have you, for work already performed or services already received,” Paine said.
Abler explained that if Temple and his office supersede that amount, additional expenses have to go through the court.
“How that happens is Temple and his office submits fees and claims to the county and will file them to the court. The court will then disapprove or approve them and send them to the board,” Abler said.
Meadows asked the board how they can challenge a claim if they had a question with it. Abler explained that it is possible to contest a discrepancy by hiring an additional prosecutor to go through the itemized legal claims.
“I have not advised them of this yet because it has not happened yet, but as far as legal fees, the board does have the option to ask for a special prosecutor to review certain things,” Abler said. “If they do find that certain things may have been privileged, they can advise the board to take it back up to the court and say ‘hey, these are things that didn’t necessarily have to be done.’ Ultimately, the judge has to approve the legal fees.”
Abler explained that the county and state are constitutionally responsible to provide counsel in cases where defendants cannot afford one.
“I hope the general public understands is that this is a basic constitutional right for the person who is indigent that if they cannot pay for an attorney, that responsibility falls upon the taxpayers of the state of Nebraska or the county of Antelope,” Abler said.