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Updated May 26, 2013 - 12:33 pm

Bill would give Ariz. AG indigent defense money

PHOENIX -- A spending proposal at the Arizona Legislature would let the Attorney General's Office get $500,000 from a state fund for indigent defendants to pay for prosecuting certain death-penalty proceedings.

The Arizona Capitol Times reports that defense attorneys believe the move would put more pressure on counties to meet requirements to adequately fund capital defense and could create problems with due process and right to counsel.

The proposal was approved by the Senate on May 16, but it would have to be approved by the House and signed by Gov. Jan Brewer to take effect.

Under the proposal, the attorney general would get $500,000 in fiscal year 2013-14 to use on capital post-conviction relief proceedings and would have to submit a plan for turning over the extensive and costly proceedings to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

The earmark would come from the state aid to indigent defense fund, a small pool of money doled out to counties, but not a dime of which has landed in a county coffer in two years since the money was diverted to the Department of Public Safety one year and not appropriated the next. The Legislature created the fund in 1999, along with funds for prosecutors and courts to handle an explosion in caseloads and keep cases within constitutionally required time limits.

Brewer's spending plan calls for eliminating the fund and diverting the money permanently to DPS.

The Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, which is in charge of distributing the money, is lobbying to get $1.8 million appropriated to the fund for fiscal year 2014. But the proposal approved by the Senate accounted only for the earmark to the Attorney General's Office, and lobbyists for county interests haven't made the fund a priority as they grapple with restoring much more monumental cuts to counties in recent years.

"There is enough to give the $500,000 to the AG for capital post-conviction relief and still support the counties and that is what we are proposing to do," Criminal Justice Commission spokesman George Diaz said.

David Euchner, president-elect of the commission and a deputy Pima County public defender, said funding indigent defense is mandated, so the costs will simply shift to the counties.

Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, said capital post-conviction relief proceedings cost the office a significant amount of money and staff time. And while the attorney general asked for the money, the office didn't ask that it come from indigent defense.

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