The Administrative Office of Illinois Courts (AOIC) has nearly completed distribution of the $10 million Public Defender Fund (Fund) to the 101 counties outside of Cook. This unprecedented investment by the General Assembly will be transformative for counties and public defenders throughout Illinois that have the greatest need.
“The Second Circuit serves a number of communities with large populations at or below the poverty level, resulting in the appointment of the public defender for an overwhelming majority of cases filed. The implementation of the SAFE-T Act has significantly increased the workload demands on our public defenders,” said 2nd Circuit Chief Judge Melissa Morgan, whose circuit received the largest allotment of $1,187,135 for 12 counties. “This Public Defender Fund will infuse into our public defender offices long-overdue resources, including new technology, equipment, support staff, investigative services, expert fees, etc., and will allow our public defenders to serve the needs of their clients in ways they would not be able to otherwise. As our counties simply do not have the financial resources for these expenditures, the Second Circuit is extremely appreciative of this vital funding, and I look forward to seeing how our public defenders utilize these funds to enhance the delivery of their essential services to our courts.
The Legislature created the Fund for distribution by the Illinois Supreme Court for public defenders and public defender services due to anticipated workload increases from the SAFE-T Act. The AOIC created an allocation plan with a goal of equitable and expeditious allocation of funds. The plan included a formula created by budget experts with the Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) Human Services Division that weighs the percentage of each county’s population that lives below the federal poverty level and the county’s percentage of 2021 criminal case filings.
“We are in final negotiations with neighboring Alexander County to set up a fulltime public defender’s office to provide services five days a week instead of two days a week,” said Pulaski County Presiding Circuit Judge William Thurston, who also serves as Chief Judge of the 1st Judicial Circuit. “At least two other counites in the 1st
Circuit are adding office space to have a public defender in the courthouse at all times. Some new positions will be created for conflict public defenders and we are looking at hiring an investigator. There will be other benefits as well that we are working together on. We are quite thankful for this money.”
Each of the 101 counties received a $50,000 lump sum with the remaining funds allocated according to the OMB formula. This provided a range of $1,187,135 total for the 12 counties in the 2nd Circuit and $95,164.23 for the 22nd Circuit, a single county circuit.
Approximately $9 million of the Fund has been distributed. The remaining $1 million will be distributed once the final 11 counties return the necessary documentation. Each county will provide information to the AOIC on how the funds were spent to support indigent defense services.
A full breakdown of the allocations by county and circuit is available here.