Public Defender Office to move


Marion Warren, director of the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts, addresses Pasquotank commissioners about the county's plan to put the offices of the district attorney and public defender into smaller spaces and the same building. Warren asked commissioners not to go forward with the plan, calling it not only "bad public policy, but a disservice" citizens of Pasquotank and the region.


By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Pasquotank County commissioners agreed this week to move the region's Public Defender’s Office from the county courthouse.

The vote to move the defender’s office was 5-1, with Commissioner Lloyd Griffin casting the lone “no” vote.   

When the move will occur and how much it will cost is still unclear. But county officials are hoping to get some help with the expenses from the N.C. Administrative Office of the Courts.

Earlier this month, AOC Director Marrion Warren met with Pasquotank commissioners to discuss the county's plan to reduce the office space available to both the public defender and district attorney's offices for the seven-county Judicial District 1.

Commissioners had agreed to reduce office space available to both because three counties in the judicial district — Chowan, Currituck and Gates — continue to refuse to pay Pasquotank for use of its facilities.

Pasquotank County Manager Rodney Bunch proposed the county offer only enough space for the counties that pay to use Pasqutoank’s facilities — Camden and Perquimans — and move the Public Defender's Office from the county courthouse to the Public Safety Building now used by the District Attorney's Office and the Pasquotank Sheriff’s Office.

Warren strongly opposed Bunch’s plan, calling it “bad public policy.” He argued it was wrong to force prosecutors and defense attorneys to occupy the same building. Both offices, because they’re adversaries in court, need privacy from the other, particularly to provide witnesses a confidential space to discuss criminal cases, he said.

Warren offered his help if Pasquotank kept the public defender's office separate from the District Attorney’s Office. He said the AOC would pay the costs of renovating a facility for the office, and noted part of Pasquotank's Edgewood center would serve well. He specifically recommended about 3,500 square feet of space in Edgewood that's between the Pasquotank Board of Elections Office and American Red Cross office.

Warren also said he would personally ask the other counties to pay their fair share for use of Pasquotank's facilities.

Bunch told commissioners on Monday that, while Warren's proposal wouldn't solve the underlying problem, the Clerk of Courts' office could use extra space in the courthouse now used by the Public Defender’s Office.

Commissioners Jeff Dixon and Joe Winslow called for commissioners to accept the proposal. Dixon also said that accepting Warren's offer would “put someone in our corner” as the county continues asking Chowan, Currituck and Gates to share in Pasquotank’s facility costs.

Commssioner Lloyd Griffin opposed accepting the deal, however, saying the other counties need to pay for use of Pasquotank's space.

Bunch said Tuesday he had not yet spoken with Warren to work out the details of the move, nor did he know how much the work would cost.