MAYVILLE – Chautauqua County’s Public Defender says his office needed to adjust “very quickly” to the COVID-19 pandemic and all of its subsequent challenges.
WNYNewsNow recently conducted a one-on-one phone interview with attorney Ned Barone to discuss a variety of topics, including the adjustments that his staff has made as a result of COVID-19. Barone says that all public defenders throughout New York State are considered “essential” workers during the pandemic.
Barone says that his staff, as well as himself, needed to conduct a two-pronged approach to perform their duties in the Public Defender’s Office.
“Obviously, we had to balance effective representation of all clients, while at the same time, providing a safe environment for our employees,” Barone explained. “That’s one of the concerns we had, and making sure we didn’t pass anything on to our clients.”
“It’s been a unique learning situation for us,” Barone continued. “It’s been a challenging situation, but at the same time, it’s provided unique learning opportunities for us.”
The Chautauqua County Public Defender’s Office, according to Barone, has also seen an increase in their caseload over the years. Barone explains that part of the increase is due to “a lot of economic stress” that the Chautauqua County, as a whole, has experienced.
The department head says that his attorney sees approximately 85-90 percent of the total number of criminal cases in Chautauqua County. Barone’s staff also represents indigent people in Family Court.
“That’s phenomenal,” Barone said. “When you maintain 85, 90 percent of all criminal cases in the county, the COVID, it’s difficult to sometimes separate or see what’s happening with any increased caseload. But one thing is for sure, the difficult economic situation that was already present here in the county was already exasperated because of COVID.”
Barone states that more people may become eligible for assistance from the Public Defender’s Office because of the fact that they may have lost income or employment due to COVID-19.
Barone says that his office constructed his 2021 budget with the idea that the pandemic has an unknown end date. Because of that, Barone explains that his office has and will continue to heavily rely on technology in order to perform their job.
The attorney says that most interviews with their clients are conducted either virtually or over the phone. He adds that most court conferences have also occurred through Skype or other virtual platforms.
Barone, additionally, says that his staff is conducting a rotating schedule with his attorneys in the Public Defender’s Dunkirk, Jamestown and Mayville offices. His attorneys and support staff have also been provided with the means to conduct work that they normally complete at the office from their home.