Study Gives County Public Defenders Office High Rating

    When the Wichita County Public Defenders Office was evaluated several years ago, county officials weren't proud of the results.
    Wichita County Judge Woody Gossom says, "They did a review of us and we didn't get as good of a grade as we liked to have had."
    Gossom says the office received the equivalent of a "C" rating.
    But now years later and under the leadership of Chief Public Defender Jim Rasmussen, it's a different story.
    A new study by the indigent defense commission gives the office a top-notch rating.
    "We came back with what I call an A+ report now.  It spoke well of our private defense bar's relationship with our public defender's office," Gossom says.
    "I think the staff gets the credit for anything good said about this report because I've had a good staff and I've been able to keep them together," Rasmussen says.
    When Rasmussen got the position in mid-2008, he wanted to add stability to the office by retaining lawyers.
    "By trying to make a working environment and trying to improve salaries, and commissioners have been wonderful at working with me in doing that," Rasmussen says.
    He says that's helped improve work done by the office's attorneys.
    The study also estimates the public defenders office saves the county between $60-180 thousand each year compared to previous years.
    A lot of that money comes from hard work obtaining plea agreements to save the time and costs of trials.
    While Rasmussen says he and his staff are excited about the report, he says they plan to use it as a springboard for future growth.
    "We're very pleased that it gives us a good report, but we want to build on it.  We want to do better because I think you can always do better," he says.
    Rasmussen says a he wants his office to serve more people and the right way.
    So, he's looking to add a mental health case manager with a grant from the indigent defense commission.
    He plans to have someone in place within the next few weeks.

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