Editor’s Note: The Empire has since run a correction about the Alaska Public Defender Agency budget in the mentioned article.
On Oct. 27, the Juneau Empire published an article claiming funding cuts “bleed” the Public Defender Agency’s (PDA) ability to fill staff vacancies. Former Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth was noted as saying public defenders are hampered by reduced funding, and a large part of this can be laid at the feet of the Dunleavy administration.
As the commissioner who oversees PDA, here’s the truth.
PDA received $1.4 million more in the FY20 budget under Gov. Mike Dunleavy than it did in the FY19 budget under Gov. Bill Walker. This was more than a 5% increase in its budget. Dunleavy also championed a public safety bill, HB 49, that included an additional $1.3 million (4.8%) for PDA. That’s extra funding for PDA to hire 10 more positions.
In FY19, Dunleavy also authorized an additional $900,000 in supplemental funding for indigent defense services. In fact, from FYs17-20, PDA received full, additional or increased funding. The Dunleavy administration further demonstrated its support for PDA by covering every attorney’s $660 annual bar dues. They did not see reductions in their budget.
A data-based analysis of PDA’s caseloads has found that PDA has sufficient vacancies authorized and budgeted for its current caseload under prevailing professional standards. But PDA has operated with a vacancy rate of 8-20% in sections across the agency. These vacancies are not the fault of the Dunleavy administration. In fact, quite the opposite — they are evidence that PDA has been resourced with more budget and staff positions than it is using.
This past spring, DOA and PDA began to assess ways PDA can operate more efficiently and effectively to leverage full use of these resources. PDA began to make changes internally. DOA will make recommendations to improve operations and continue to work with PDA to ensure they have the necessary tools and processes established to function efficiently.
The Dunleavy administration is committed to adequately fulfilling its obligation to provide public defense services to indigent Alaskans. We will continue to monitor law enforcement trends and resource PDA, accordingly, to meet the defense needs of the State. Public safety is Dunleavy’s highest priority.
Alaska Department of Administration
• Kelly Tshibaka is commissioner of the Alaska Department of Administration.