City Commission Approves Indigent Counsel Agreement

During Monday's City Commission Meeting, Resolution No. 23-8168 was under consideration as Commissioners deliberated authorizing the City Manager to enter into an agreement with Jennifer Dahlstrom for the provision of indigent counsel services at the Salina Municipal Court.

In accordance with legal obligations, the Salina Municipal Court is mandated to offer competent legal defense counsel to individuals unable to afford their own attorney. This requirement applies particularly to indigent defendants facing potential incarceration if found guilty. Since 2003, the court has employed a rotational legal panel system, distributing legal hours among multiple attorneys to enhance scheduling flexibility and foster increased interest in providing indigent services to the Salina Municipal Court.

Presently, the monthly cost for the indigent counsel panel is $10,500 ($126,000 annually), evenly divided ($3,500/month) among three panel members through renewable one-year agreements. Additional fees are applicable for cases appealed to the District Court or beyond, with bench trials incurring an extra cost of $75/hour, not exceeding 20 hours or a total compensation of $1,500 for bench or jury trials. These contracts automatically renew annually with a three percent cost-of-living increase. The proposed indigent counsel contract would allocate $3,605 monthly for each attorney.

Key provisions of the contract include:

  • Requirement for attorneys to provide "competent and professional" services, allowing the City to terminate the contract if not met.
  • Reassignment of clients to a different attorney in case of a conflict of interest.
  • Termination of the contract with a 90-day notice by either party.
  • One-year duration with automatic renewal unless a 90-day termination notice is provided.
  • Responsibility of ordinary legal expenses and document preparation lies with the attorney.
  • Handling of appeals beyond District Court through a separate, negotiated arrangement.
  • Non-assignability of the contract.

The current panel comprises Allie Burris (Blackwell & Struble), Julie Effenbeck (Law Office of Julie A. Effenbeck, LLC), and Charles Lindberg (Allen & Associates), with Lindberg notifying the City of Salina about the termination of his agreement by year-end. Following requests to the Saline/Ottawa County Bar Association, two attorneys, Jennifer Dahlstrom and Julie Effenbeck, expressed interest in serving on the panel.

Considering the existing caseload, staff recommended awarding a third contract instead of allowing an attorney already serving as indigent counsel to take on an additional caseload.

Fiscal Note:
The costs associated with the indigent counsel agreements are incorporated into the Salina Municipal Court operating budget, funded through the General Fund.

The motion to adopt Resolution No. 23-8168, enabling the City Manager to execute an agreement with Jennifer Dahlstrom for indigent counsel services at the Salina Municipal Court, was approved unanimously, with a vote of 5-0.

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