October 28, 2021

Ramsey Report

What is “Category B Restitution” and why should you care about it as taxpayer? As we have all heard in the Miranda warnings on police shows, “if you can’t afford an attorney to defend you in a criminal case, one will be appointed for you.” The philosophy behind this is that it is in the interest of justice for society to make sure every citizen accused of a crime has legal representation when their liberty is at stake.

Most public defenders in Iowa are private lawyers under contract with the State Public Defender’s Office. They are paid with your state taxes. The number of Defendant’s using public defenders is not insignificant; I would estimate the 80% of criminal docket in Clarke County involves representation by these contract public defenders.

“Category B Restitution” can be said to represent the notion that the Defendants using these (free to them) lawyers can and should pay back their legal fees over time when the case is concluded. In years past, the predominant thinking amongst the judiciary and the defense bar has been that Defendants should never be required to pay back the legal fees they incurred to for their public defender criminal defense. However, the legislature recently remedied this to some degree by creating a legal presumption that Defendants have the reasonable ability to pay and should pay back these legal fees if they can. The rates charged by contract public defenders seem to be heavily discounted compared to private attorneys and their billing practices are highly regulated by the State Public Defender’s Office. Even Defendants that are sent to short stints in jail or prison can work when they get out. This office routinely assists Defendants in setting up payment plans and the State does not charge interest on these payment plans.

Not everyone agrees with my belief that public policy should encourage personal responsibility but during my tenure as the Clarke County Attorney, I have worked diligently to obtain repayment of these legal fees wherever possible by making it an element of my negotiated plea agreements. If Defendants are on disability and/or can’t work, I typically do not pursue reimbursement for Category B. If they do not agree to pay Category B Restitution all criminal Defendants are legally entitled to a hearing to rebut the presumption that it is reasonable for them to pay back these attorney fees.

Scott Keller, an auto mechanic with a garage behind the old nursing home North of Osceola on highway 69, was convicted by a jury of his peers of conspiracy to commit fraudulent practices and was sentenced to (not to exceed) 2 years in prison. The sentence was suspended and he was placed on probation. An extensive investigation by Special Investigators from the Iowa Department of Transportation determined that, in this particular instance, Keller’s fraud involved converting the title of a customer’s vehicle into his wife April’s name. Though Keller knew the vehicle had been lawfully repossessed and removed from his business the day before, he filed paperwork at the Clarke County Courthouse which falsely claimed that he was owed over $18,000 for repairs and that he had held a public auction for the vehicle. He also falsely claimed his wife April had been the winning bidder.

In terms of August’s workload in the Clarke County Attorney’s Office, several misdemeanor bench trials were conducted. 8 felony cases came in and 1 was disposed. Felony cases are the most serious of criminal cases. The State’s case tracking system reflects an increase from 81 to 88 pending felony cases for Clarke County.

In August, 14 indictable misdemeanors came in and 10 were disposed. The State’s case tracking system reflects that the pending number is up from 177 to 184 cases.

In August, 264 simple misdemeanors came in and 285 were disposed. The State’s case tracking system reflects that the number of pending simple misdemeanors is down slightly from 497 to 475.

In August, the Clarke County Attorney’s Office juvenile case load included 3 new Child in Need of Assistance (CINA) cases with 0 disposed. The State’s case tracking system reflects an increase 91 to 96 pending juvenile cases.