By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsemail@example.com
Hill County officials received no bids Monday from lawyers interested in serving as the public defender in Hill County Justice Court for the fiscal year that begins July 1.
The deadline to submit bids for the contract was 11 a.m. Monday.
The contract calls for a lawyer or law firm to provide free legal counsel to indigent defendants in Justice Court, where misdemeanor crimes that occur outside the Havre city limits are prosecuted.
Presently, the law firms of Bosch Kuhr Dugdale Martin and Kaze PLLP and Altman and Boucher provide attorneys for Justice Court's public defender program. The firms' $25,000 contract with the county expires June 30.
The law firms did not submit a bid to renew the contract. Phone calls to the firms this morning were not returned.
The county will have to decide whether to rebid the contract and award it to the lowest bidder, or assign the contract a price and advertise its availability, Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said Monday.
If a new contract is not in place by June 30, the public defender program in Justice Court will continue on a case-by-case basis, Justice of the Peace Terry Stoppa said.
The court would likely continue to use the same public defenders, only they would be compensated on an hourly basis, he said.
Kaercher said it has not been decided what the hourly rate would be. The commissioners planned to meet with Stoppa today to discuss it, he said.
The county has had a public defenders contract in Justice Court for at least the last 15 years.
Bosch Kuhr Dugdale Martin and Kaze and Altman and Boucher also have the public defender contract in state District Court in Havre. That contract, worth $145,000, will also expire June 30.
The two firms were awarded the contract in August after Bosch Kuhr did not renew its contract with the city of Havre to serve as city prosecutor. The firm continues to advise the city on other legal matters.
Although last year the public defender contract for District Court was awarded by the county, this year that responsibility falls to the state.
If a new public defender's contract is not in place for indigent defendants in Justice Court by June 30, those defendants will continue to be represented by the lawyers assigned to them. Those lawyers would be compensated on an hourly basis.