Requiring proper notification to a client of any potential fee when applying for a public defender to represent them, a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Anthony Verrelli, Jamel Holley, and Raj Mukherji recently cleared the Assembly 73-0 on Thursday.
The bill (A-812) would require any municipality that mandates by ordinance that a person applying for representation by a municipal public defender pay an application fee the municipal court must provide notice to the applicant of the fee. The municipality must also inform the applicant of the process of how to apply to have the fees waived in the event of an inability to pay.
The sponsors of the bill, Assemblymen Wimberly (D-Mercer, Hunterdon), Holley (D-Union), and Mukherji (D-Hudson) issued the following statement:
“When a court has decided that a defendant qualifies due to their financial circumstances for a public defender, an attorney is assigned to handle the case. Contrary to popular belief, this representation by the public defender is not free.
“At the close of the representation, the public defender is required by state statute to collect a fee from a client. If the fee is not reimbursed by the client within 60 days of the disposition of the client’s case, the cost will be reduced to a judgment or lien.
“This must be clear to all individuals who apply for a public defender. They are applying due to their current financial status; therefore it is unfair to surprise them with a bill that may be unable to pay. More people must understand the process and be able to navigate the judicial system in regards to requesting or being assigned a public offender.”