KANKAKEE — Gus Regas, Kankakee County’s part-time chief public defender, is retiring Sept. 1 after four years on the job.
Chief Judge Michael Kramer wants to convert the position to full time because of an increasing caseload.
Kramer told the county board’s criminal justice committee this week the change would cost the county an extra $30,000 per year. The committee approved the idea.
“This is a small investment to ensure our court system is meeting its constitutional duty by providing adequate counsel to those who cannot afford it,” the judge said.
The alternative, he said, is relitigation of cases because of ineffective defense and even possible lawsuits against the county for violation of defendants’ constitutional rights.
The public defender’s office has 14 attorneys, two of them part time, Kramer said.
Kramer said the county board should expect a report later this year from the new public defender on the best ways to efficiently and effectively address the office’s needs.
In a text message to the Daily Journal, Regas said he agreed with the decision to have a full-time chief public defender.
“The volume of cases has risen significantly in the last five years. We also have expanded drug court and initiated veterans court. Public defenders are now required at bond hearings,” he said.
Regas said he retired from private practice when he became the chief defender so he could give the job the attention it deserved.
Under state law, a full-time public defender’s salary must be 90 percent of the state’s attorney’s. In 2018, State’s Attorney Jim Rowe made $165,000, according to OpenTheBooks.com. That means the public defender must get $149,000.
As a part-time chief public defender, Regas makes $83,000. The state pays two-thirds of the public defender’s salary; the county picks up the rest.
County board Chairman Andy Wheeler, R-Kankakee, said he and Kramer have spoken about the issue and that he recommended the board approve the extra expense.
“We both recognize that this is the way to tackle the caseload with the financial constraints we are under,” he said.
The public defender is selected by a majority of the judges in the 21st judicial circuit, which consists of Kankakee and Iroquois counties.