AP News Article, March 2008

By Staff, AP News
Posted 3/1/2008

The state’s new public defender said Friday his office became too isolated and didn’t offer enough help to county attorneys, affecting the quality of representation of poor criminals statewide.

Too much division exists between the state and counties and among counties themselves, said Tim Young, appointed State Public Defender Jan. 1.

Young says one of his priorities is to help county attorneys more and make his office a statewide resource center.

“There’s too much division and not enough sharing of information, and ultimately that division means that good ideas aren’t taking root statewide,” Young told The Associated Press.

“The more insular and isolated we became, the more we left the county offices isolated from each other. It’s just not natural for them to be creating their own little ad hoc cooperative group when the state office exists.” Young acknowledged this problem may have hurt the quality of legal work poor defendants received.

“I’m obviously implying that it has,” he said.

He hopes to provide more tools for public defenders, from electronic access to common court documents to a statewide policy manual to an annual meeting for county public defenders.

Young, 42, oversees an office of 123 employees, including 64 attorneys. The state agency has an annual budget of about $7 million.

The office represents poor criminals at all levels of the criminal process, including many death penalty defendants appealing their convictions.

Young, a former Montgomery County public defender in Dayton, replaced David Bodiker, state public defender since 1994. Bodiker died shortly after his January retirement after undergoing emergency heart surgery.

Among his other priorities, Young:

– Wants to change the state’s DNA testing laws to ensure evidence is stored safely and uniformly around the state so the right people are convicted of crimes.

– Update the state’s laws for discovery, or the process that requires prosecutors to share information with the accused. Young says a person suing an insurance company after an accident has more rights to information than a person accused of a crime.

– Educate the public about the death penalty system and what he believes is the current law’s unfairness. He said there are still too many discrepancies in dealing with capital cases county to county. He also said racial bias continues, including both the race of the offender and race of the victim.

“We have got to be able at the end of the day to look up and say, that when we apply this ultimate punishment, we’ve applied it evenly and fairly statewide,” Young said. “I don’t believe we can say that right now.”

Prosecutors dispute the death penalty system is unfair, attributing any geographic discrepancies to the nature of elected government.

“Prosecutors are elected officials, juries in those jurisdictions may view the cases differently,” John Murphy, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Assn., said Friday.

“There are rational views why there are differences, mainly based on the desires of the populace through the democratic system. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.”

Murphy acknowledged a disparity in the treatment of defendants based on the race of the victim. He said he wouldn’t oppose a study looking at that issue.

But he said prosecutors would oppose any systematic study of the state’s death penalty law, fearing it would lead to a de facto moratorium on capital punishment that would be hard to lift.