July 21, 2005 – Harold Willocks, the territory's chief public defender, asked the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday for $5.3 million to fund his office in the upcoming fiscal year. His request last year was for almost $5 million; the government granted him about $2.7 million. (See "Legal Aid Agencies Make Their Cases for Funding").
The big difference between his request last year and what he received is the funding for his plan to build a building for the public defender's office.
So he is asking once again for $1.5 million to fund that project. Willocks said it would save the government $96,000 a year and possibly give the government some lease income from extra office space.
"We are wasting money paying rent. We need to start building," he said.
Also, he is asking for more money to pay his staff. Willocks is proposing a 10 percent pay increase for the staff. No one has received a raise in four years, he said.
Finance Committee Chairman Norman Jn Baptiste praised Willocks for keeping the percentage of his budget that is devoted to personnel costs to 40 percent. He said the percentage of many department budgets going to salaries is the area of 68 percent. However, Baptiste also seemed to indicate that a 10 percent increase was dramatic. "You know half a loaf is better than nothing," he said.
Baptiste touched on controversy when he also commended the public defender's office for being so successful in winning cases.
Recent media reports have talked about business owners in Christiansted being frustrated over the fact that people charged with committing crimes on the streets are generally quickly back on the streets.
Sen. Terrence "Positive" Nelson asked, "Who really is successful when we have our youth coming back out on the streets to commit havoc?" Nelson said the Virgin Islands needed a "true" system of rehabilitation.
Willocks responded that, though some people think his department gets the "quote, criminal, unquote, free," his department is an integral part of the justice system.
Baptiste said he was not "myopic" and understood the necessity of the Public Defender's office. He illustrated a case where an innocent man could be charged with a crime and be unable to afford a lawyer to defend him.
Ronald Moorehead, fiscal accountant for the Public Defender's office, said progress has been made on buying the land for the proposed new home for the department.
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