Everybody's entitled to representation, and Richard Hughes is glad to do the best he can for people who need it.
Hughes runs the public defender's office for the 10th Judicial District and he spoke to the Madisonville Kiwanis Tuesday, telling them how glad he is he was able to keep his office in Madisonville open.
"When the bad economy hit," he said "and it looked like the state was going to have a huge shortfall, there was talk of moving everything to Cleveland and working from there. I thought that was a bad idea and I was happy it was shelved."
Hughes said most of his staff lives in Monroe County, not to mention the hardship it would have put on some clients.
"There are a lot of people in this area," he said, "who cannot afford private representation. They depend on us, and if they would have had to drive all the way to Cleveland just to discuss their case, it could have really hurt their chances in court."
Hughes was appointed to the PD's office in early 2006, then won the seat in an election later that year. He has two public defenders in General Sessions Court on Tuesdays and two that handle Juvenile Court.
"There were some concerns about staff due to budget cuts," he said, "but we managed to keep everybody."
Hughes acknowledged that some people have mixed feelings about a public defender's office, but he feels most realize it is needed.
"The office takes a large burden off the private practice attorneys," he said. "It used to be that private attorneys were appointed to represent indigent clients. And some still do. But if our office was gone, the burden on them would be huge."
Hughes said he expects to see an increase in property related crime and fraud as the economy continues to flounder.
"We're not like a metropolitan area," he said. "We don't really see that much violent crime. We tend to have more of the drug related offenses. People selling their own prescriptions are starting to become a problem. They need money and people are willing to buy the medicine."
Hughes admitted some people need to be in jail. "There are career criminals," he said, "and they need to be in the penitentiary. But there are people whose crimes aren't violent and they can be treated and help ease the enormous burden on jails. We're doing that now with our Drug Court and it has some success stories."
Hughes is worried about the continuing viability of a PD's office in Madisonville, saying the money isn't there like it used to be.
"People using the office need to help pay for it," he said. "The partial indigency fee needs to be used better and we'd like to see the County Commission assess a user's fee for everybody found guilty."
Hughes concluded, saying, "Of course, collecting all the costs associated with being convicted is another story. But we need to stop relying on state revenue so much."