Statutory History

The present Board succeeds the Board of Supervisors of Panels to Aid Indigent Defendants (1969 Legislature - K.S.A. 22-4501 et seq.) which was abolished on the effective date of the 1982 legislation. Two public defender offices (3rd Judicial District - Topeka, and 8th Judicial District - Junction City) were authorized and organized in FY 1972, and the third (28th Judicial District - Salina) was set up in FY 1973. Junction City handles all felonies in Riley, Geary, Marion, Clay, Dickinson, and Morris counties. The Salina office covers Saline County, conflict cases in Dickinson County, and high level felony cases in Russell, Ellsworth, Mitchell, Cloud, Jewell, Republic, Ottawa, and McPherson Counties. The 18th Judicial District Public Defender Office (Wichita) was created in FY 1985, although it began its phase-in during the latter part of FY 1984. The Appellate Defender Office, located in Topeka, was created to be effective in FY 1986. In response to the enactment of the death penalty, the Appellate Defender took on the additional responsibility of handling death penalty appeals in 1998, when the first death penalty appeal was docketed in the Kansas Supreme Court. On July 3, 1989, the 10th Judicial District Public Defender Office (Johnson County) began accepting indigent felony appointments. The 25th Judicial District Office (Garden City) began accepting cases in January, 1994. The 1994 legislature established a state death penalty, resulting in the creation of the Office of Capital Coordinator (now the Death Penalty Defense Unit [DPDU]) in FY 1995. Satellite trial level offices were established in June, 1996, in Reno, Miami, and Seward Counties. The Southeast Kansas Public Defender office (Chanute) opened in September of 1997. This office accepts felony appointments in the Thirty-first Judicial District and in Greenwood County. The Chanute office is also responsible for indigent homicide cases in Coffey, Anderson, and Bourbon counties. The Northeast Kansas Conflict Office began accepting felony appointments on July 1, 1997. The Conflict office accepts appointments on off-grid felony cases (homicides) from Douglas, Jackson, Jefferson, Pottawatomie, Wabaunsee, Osage, and Lyon counties. The Conflicts office also handles felony conflict case appointments in Shawnee County. The Reno County office was established as a regional office in July 2000 and serves Reno County as well as higher level felony cases in Rice, Barton, and Stafford counties. The Reno County office is also on call to take high level felony appointments in other counties in west-central Kansas.

The 1982 Legislature provided that the Board could:

1. contract with one or more law firms in a county or district for the defense of indigent persons accused of felonies;
2. contract with cities or counties to provide for defense of misdemeanors or other defense services at the expense
of the
city or county;
3. accept the services of volunteer workers and consultants;
4. appoint public defenders;
5. conduct attorney training programs;
6. provide technical aid or assistance to attorneys; and
7. accept and expend governmental and private grants.

The issue of assigned counsel fees remains a concern. In December, 1987, the Kansas Supreme Court specifically overruled the 120-year precedent of Case v. Board of County Commissioners and held in Stephan v. Smith that the state's system of appointing and compensating assigned counsel was unconstitutional. The court overturned the mandatory appointment process for assigned counsel and ruled the state "has an obligation to pay appointed counsel such sums as will fairly compensate the a fair rate which is not confiscatory, considering overhead and expenses." In essence, the court ordered an end to the long-standing reliance on the good will of the bar for indigent defense and instructed the state to pay reasonable compensation to attorneys assigned to represent indigent defendants.

As a result of Stephan v. Smith, the 1988 Legislature approved an increase in the compensation rate for assigned counsel from $30 to $50 per hour. Service by private attorneys on panels for appointment as counsel to indigent defendants was also made voluntary. Following the Smith decision, public defender offices became more cost effective. Consequently, the Board has attempted to institute a coordinated statewide approach to indigent defense cases. The changes have included expanded use of contracts and public defender offices.

Since FY 1994, the agency has operated without a FTE position limitation. The 1993 Legislature removed the position limitation from the agency's appropriation so the agency could quickly open public defender offices and add attorneys and support staff only when it is cost-effective to do so. The reduction in staff in recent years reflects the agency=s serious consideration of operating cost effectively.