Fulton County Board of Supervisors to decide on public defender position

Position could change from part-time to full-time

Fulton County Public Defender Gerard McAuliffe, soon to be sworn in as county Family Court judge, listens to the Board of Supervisors' Public Safety Committee Tuesday at the County Office Building in Johnstown. (The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich)

JOHNSTOWN — The Fulton County Board of Supervisors on Monday will decide whether to reclassify the county public defender’s position from part-time to full-time.

County Administrative Officer Jon Stead said the recommendation to do that came from the board’s Public Safety Committee Tuesday following a committee executive session at the County Office Building.

The new full-time position salary, he said, will be advertised at $110,000.

The office of Fulton County Public Defender Gerard McAuliffe will undergo major changes in coming months, and county supervisors met in both open and closed sessions Tuesday to discuss them.

The Public Safety Committee convened a rare special session. The listed purpose of the meeting was to discuss a “vacancy in the post of public defender and future restructuring of the office.”

McAuliffe, Fulton County’s longtime part-time public defender, will be sworn in at 10 a.m. Jan. 1 at the County Courthouse as the new Fulton County Family Court judge. He replaces the retiring Judge Edward Skoda.

But the vacancy is not only leaving county legislators scrambling on how to fill what may become a full-time position, there are questions about new state regulations, and where to locate the new Public Defender’s Office.

“One of the things we’ve been working on the last several months is all the potential changes going through the Public Defender’s Office,” Stead told the committee. “We’re now down to the wire here.”

Currently, that office is listed as at McAuliffe’s private law firm at the Johnstown Professional Office Complex, 55 E. Main St. According to the county website, he has five assistants: attorneys Michael Smrtic, Michael Poulin, Roger Paul, Allen Day and Brian Wood.

Stead said that for many years, the county has operated by providing county payments to law firms of the public defender and his assistants to offset office costs such as secretarial expenses.

The Public Safety Committee on Tuesday went into a closed-door executive session to discuss “employment history” of personnel. A replacement for McAuliffe may have been discussed, but Stead said his successor was not recommended for hire.

But before that session, the committee endorsed a proposed resolution authorizing a $52,000 county contract with Robin Kane Consulting for indigent legal services consulting. The full board will vote Monday on that final resolution.

Stead said that following the Hurrell-Harring legal settlement by New York state, the state Indigent Legal Services Commission is trying to bring each county into compliance with court-ordered settlement guidelines. The state is requiring a major expansion of public defender offices within two to five years.

Mandates require the formation of an Office of Assigned Counsel to coordinate a rotating system of attorneys in county criminal court proceedings.

Stead noted that each county must prepare and implement a transition plan for its public defender office and assigned counsel in order to receive state grant funds for increased staffing, monitoring and other new costs. He said that if the position goes full time, an outside contract such as Robin Kane Consulting will be necessary to ensure office administrative work continues.

“This is one of the first steps we would like to see,” Stead said.

Stead said Kane has been performing similar work under contract to McAuliffe for several years. Her proposed contract would be for 2019 at a flat rate of $25 per hour, not to exceed 40 hours per week and not to exceed $52,000 per year.

The Board of Supervisors in November passed a resolution also impacting the Public Defender’s Office. The board endorsed a conceptual plan for future use of the County Annex at 57 E. Fulton St. in Gloversville. St. Mary’s Healthcare in September moved out of the two-story annex, leaving only three county Community Services Department employees.

County Probation Director Cynthia Licciardi requested the county move her department from across the street at 62 E. Fulton St. to the annex at 57 E. Fulton St.

The plan calls for annex reoccupation not only by the Probation Department, but the Public Defender’s Office and the Assigned Counsel Administrator Office. Renovations for reoccupation were estimated at about $20,000.

Stead said Robin Kane Consulting is willing to take on grant work for the new Public Defender’s Office, and assist at the annex.

“She’s willing to make sure computers get set up,” Stead said.

Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at manich@leaderherald.com.