Funds needed to open Ark. public defender office

FORT SMITH, Ark. (AP) - Available funding will determine when the federal court system's western Arkansas district can establish its own federal public defender office.

The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in August approved a request by former Chief Judge Jimm Larry Hendren that the district be allowed to have such an office. Arkansas' only federal public defender program is based in Little Rock.

Hendren told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (http://bit.ly/FQ0elV) that he and other judges strongly supported a separate federal public defender office for western Arkansas because of its growing caseload. The district has 34 counties split into six divisions.

A study to determine if the western district qualified for a public defender showed the district had 495 annual cases, more than the 200-case threshold set in the Criminal Justice Act.

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