Anatomy of a Dumb Law

A textbook example of how bad your government is.

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Not to get too Dick Feagler here, but there used to be some things you could flat-out count on. Like, say, bad food at The Jake. Thieving public officials. And a free lawyer, if you couldn't afford one.

But now, thanks to those thieves (some things never change), you can count on something else. That lawyer, who used to come at no charge as part of this quaint little notion called a "constitutional right," could now cost you an Andrew and an Abe.

Technically, a public defender is still free, but the state's current budget bill allows a defendant to be assessed a $25 "indigent application fee," which is the Republican version of a tax. But since the word "tax" is considered an obscenity in the legislature, they're calling it an "indigent application fee," because such tortured phrasing is hard to use against someone in an attack ad.

The corrections bill that passed last month requires each county to file monthly reports on its collections with the State Public Defender's office. "The budget situation gets so bad, you start looking for about anything you can to continue operations," says John Alge, director of administration for the public defender's office.

But keeping with Ohio's tradition of identifying problems, then failing to solve them, only $5 actually goes to public defense. The rest, for reasons beyond explanation, goes to the state auditor, who will presumably be fighting crime by telling bad guys, Stop, or I'll bust an audit on yo' ass.

As is our custom, Cuyahoga County has been slow to adopt. Only two municipal courts here currently are sending the reports. That's probably because the law is essentially useless. The legislature, in its infinite wisdom, didn't include any sanctions for not paying.

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