Local group discusses creating a Mobile Co. Public Defender's Office

Muriel Bailey

Mar 17, 2023

Each year thousands go through Mobile County's court system and if you can’t afford an attorney one will be provided to you.

MOBILE, Ala. (WPMI) — A local group says those who can’t afford attorneys in Mobile County aren’t getting adequate representation and they're calling for the state to create a Mobile County Public Defender’s Office.


Each year thousands go through Mobile County's court system and if you can’t afford an attorney one will be provided to you.


However, Faith in Action Alabama says those people need better representation.


"What we want to do is level the playing field," Pastor Marvin Lue said.

Currently Mobile County offers indigent defense services where a judge appoints a lawyer who is paid hourly.


That’s a decision Lue says oftentimes happens quickly.


"Judges will have to pick lawyers who are in the room and they only have about two minutes to get the information they need to represent the individual at hand and that's not fair it makes no sense," he said.

Chris Champnapier says he experienced that. He says once he ran out of money for a hired attorney, he had to get a court appointed one.


"It was horrible," he said.


He says in his situation, communication was a big struggle.


"You never get a change to get any type of feedback," he said. "Any type of communication with them, any type of interaction other than through letters."


Out of Alabama's 67 counties only seven have a public defender’s office. One of the issues is funding.

According to an AL.com article, data from October 2017 to September 2018 provided by the state’s Office of Indigent Defense Services, shows that in four counties the public defender’s office is cheaper than using private attorneys.


While the three other counties each spent slightly more on a public defender’s office than they did using private attorneys.


Lue says as economic statuses continue to be affected the problem will grow.


"We just want everyone to have a chance to argue their cases with the best representation possible," he said.


The state collects court fees for a "Fair Trial Tax Fund" that's designed to pay for indigent defense statewide.


In the 2019 Alabama budget, Gov. Kay Ivey requested that $54,000,000 be used from that fund.

The Office of Indigent Defense is also budgeted to receive $1,167,551 in 2019 for the Alabama General Fund.