Judge: Panel positive addition


Jackson Circuit Judge Richard W. Poynter said he has always had an issue when it’s time to assign a public defender to represent people he might eventually have to sentence to prison time.

“I don’t get to pick the prosecutor, so why should I pick the public defender?” Poynter said.

“I always saw this as a conflict of interest. I’m supposed to be neutral.”

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Come Jan. 1, that should no longer be an issue for Poynter or the people who stand across from him in the courtroom.

“This will remove the judge from the process,” he said, referring to a public defender’s office being established.

Poynter began pushing for the full-time office more than a year ago, contending it would save the county money while offering better representation for those who can’t afford an attorney.

The attorneys working out of the office will focus solely on providing representation for those people. The county currently uses a contract system in which private practice attorneys defend those who can’t afford an attorney.

The first step in the process of establishing the public defender board was putting a three-member board in place.

Poynter’s recent selection of Michael Jordan as his representative completed the composition of that board. The Seymour resident will join Joe Thoele of Seymour, who is Jackson Superior Court II Judge Bruce MacTavish’s appointment, and Bruce Wynn, also of Seymour, who is the county commissioners’ representative.

County attorney Susan Bevers is going to help the board with its work, which will first include appointing a chief public defender. That person will set up the office and hire the other public defenders.

Poynter said that office will need four public defenders to handle the felony caseload in Jackson County. Jackson County Superior Court I and II will continue to use part-time public defenders as needed, and the board will establish the contracts for those attorneys, he said.

Jordan, who served 32 years on the Seymour City Council before retiring in 2011, said he’s looking forward to the challenge.

“I think it’s something that we need,” said Jordan, who will be the Democratic Party’s representative on the board.

Thoele is the Republican representative. Commissioners did not have to look at a person’s political affiliation when picking their appointee.

Jordan, who also is president of the Seymour Redevelopment Commission and has been a member of the city plan commission for 36 years, said he knows Poynter has been working really hard and long on establishing the office.

“I am excited he asked me to be the Democrat representative on the board,” said Jordan, who retired from Home Federal Savings and Loan as a loan officer and appraiser after 37 years. Jordan also has spent 40 years as a member of the Indiana National Guard, including the past 22 as state adjutant for the Military Department of Indiana at Stout Field.

The board has yet to meet, but Poynter said he hopes it will meet soon so the public defender’s office can be in place by the end of the year.

The board also will have to set the budget for the office, and Wynn hopes to rely on his background in banking to help with that.

He said he also sees the establishment of the office as important to the residents of Jackson County.

“There are a number of other counties that have this system in place,” Wynn said. “He (Poynter) has done a lot of research and put a lot of thought into it. I think it will make the system a lot more efficient with potential for cost savings.”

Poynter said his original intent was to try to have the public defender’s office up and running by Oct. 1 to take advantage of the estimated $9,000 per month the county will receive in state reimbursement by having the office in place.

“But the county council wants to wait until the fiscal year begins on Jan. 1,” he said.

Currently, 54 of Indiana’s 92 counties have public defender offices.

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