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‘There are few practical protections to safeguard against the government’s exploitation of DNA technology,’ Maryland Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe wrote in asking the Supreme Court to take up a Massachusetts case similar to one they declined to hear from Maryland earlier this year. (File photo)

Public defender’s lease request not pegged to new bail law

Language justifying an expansion of a lease of Towson office space by the Office of the Public Defender was based on a 2012 Court of Appeals decision regarding representation of indigent defendants and was accurate at the time the request was made to the state, according to a document provided by Maryland Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe Jr.

DeWolfe Tuesday said the document, dated July 31, 2013, shows the request for additional office space was made after the General Assembly authorized the hiring of 68 people meant to handle additional caseloads related to staffing bail hearings for indigent defendants. The document was also written nearly two months before a second Court of Appeals decision in DeWolfe v. Richmond ultimately resulted in the Judiciary providing attorneys to staff those hearings.

“The genesis of whatever the Department of General Services put in comes from” the form provided by the Office of the Public Defender, said DeWolfe. “That was accurate at the time it was put into the (request) and it was true,” he said.

The language citing the need for office space was based on a previous, January 2012 Richmond decision; it was copied into the request that goes before the Board of Public Works Wednesday morning. A previous story in The Daily Record reported that the lease expansion appeared to be based on the latter Richmond decision even though that ruling would not expand the public defender’s caseload.

The lease is one of two modifications the public defender is seeking for existing office space at its Towsontowne Blvd. location. The lease would add 1,982 square feet and two additional parking spaces for the office, which is currently about 17,000 square feet in size, according to documents supplied by the Office of the Public Defender.

In 2013, the agency hired 68 people in anticipation of handling the representation of indigent defendants at initial bail hearings. But at the same time that the agency hired staff, it was not given additional funds to provide office space or furnishings.

In the July 2013 request, the agency notes that “three attorneys are sharing an office designed for a single attorney, two other attorneys share a desk because the office they share can only fit one, and two attorneys are using a storage closet as a shared office.”

That same document notes that three additional attorneys are expected to move to the Towson office and that there is a need for a total of 10 offices.

A second decision by the Court of Appeals related to the General Assembly’s attempts to deal with the initial DeWolfe v. Richmond decision upended plans to use public defenders. The legislature earlier this year approved $10 million for the judiciary to assign and pay for private attorneys to represent those clients.

The Office of the Public Defender has since reassigned the staff hired a year ago to help handle the more than 200,000 cases it represents each year.