Clemency cases for death row inmates increase public defenders' case load

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VOLUSIA COUNTY, Fla. —

Volusia County public defenders say they're already overloaded on cases and now they are being handed cases to help death row inmates ask the governor for clemency.

WFTV's Blaine Tolison found out the public defender's office believes it's all because private attorneys won't take the clemency cases.

For just one of these cases, attorney's told me they can only get a maximum award of $1,000.

Criminals on death row almost always have a clemency hearing, which is their last chance to trade a death sentence for life in prison.

For the first time in decades, the public defender's office in the Seventh Judicial Circuit was handed one of those clemency cases. That concerns Jim Purdy who said it could strain resources.

"The last two sessions of the Legislature they haven't cut our budget, but they haven't increased it either," said Purdy.

Purdy's office is working with 15 percent less funding than what it had before the recession and eight fewer attorneys handling cases.

They handle between 100 and 125 cases each at any given time. If they start handling clemency cases, that's added work when there's no additional money coming in the door.

"There are ways it can be done, but I think it would take us going to the legislature, receiving additional funding, coming up with some formula," said Purdy.

The most recent clemency case involves Paul Brown, who slashed a man's throat in 1992. It was given to Purdy's office by a judge with orders from Gov. Rick Scott. Purdy believes it's because no one else will handle the cases.

"Attorneys are unwilling to take these for $1,000 because it does take at least two days out of their practice of law," said Purdy.

Purdy said the more attorneys who refuse to work them, the more clemency cases public defenders will see across the state.