Lexington, Ky. - The head of the committee that overseas state legal issues in the Ky. House of Representatives is concerned a debate over Lexington's legal aid office might hurt poor people seeking legal representation in Fayette courts.
Lexington Representative and House Judiciary Chairwoman Kathy Stein – herself a lawyer - says state takeover would probably improve the local system… but she does not want funding or staffing to decline while the state and Fayette County debate.
Lexington Mayor Jim Newberry has proposed cutting legal aid funding and allowing the state to take over the local system. Council opposes his idea and has restored $108 thousand dollars in funding. Legal aid represents defendants in court who can’t afford private lawyers.
State Legal Aid Director Ernie Lewis says state operation would improve Fayette’s system and give its lawyers merit system protection.
Fayette County Legal Aid Director Joseph Barbieri says his office is doing just fine without the state and as well as any other county.
Proponents of state takeover say Fayette Legal Aid costs defendants more than any other county in the state system. Stein says that’s because Fayette correctly charges defendants - who can afford it - what they can pay to offset the costs of their defense.