About Our History
Prior to the 1970’s, defendants who were unable to afford counsel were appointed an attorney on a case by case situation. The individual would request an attorney and the Court would make the determination whether the individual qualified for an attorney. In the event that they did qualify, the Court then would select a local attorney to represent that person in their case. During the 1970’s because of the number of cases needing representation, the Court appointed a Public Defender to handle all of these cases. The first appointed attorney was Jerry Carson. Mr. Carson did these cases on a part-time basis. He was followed by attorney Herbert Boase who served as the Public Defender for both Noble and LaGrange Counties. As the caseload continued to increase, it became apparent that Noble County would need its own part-time Public Defender.
In 1976, attorney Robert Way took over the position of Noble County Public Defender. Shortly, thereafter a second part-time Public Defender, Dennis Graft was appointed. Both of these Public Defenders were contracted for their services and both maintained their own private practices during this time. Mr. Way became the first Chief Public Defender of Noble County. In 1987, Mr. Way left his position as Chief Public Defender and Dennis Graft was then appointed Chief Public Defender. During this period of time, a third part-time Public Defender was appointed and contracted to handle the additional caseload.
During the 1990’s there were a number of additions to the staff of the Public Defenders. In 1994 attorney James J. Abbs became a part-time Public Defender and was assigned to handle the major felony litigation. 1994 was also the first year that the Public Defenders were given their own separate budget rather than being a part of the Court’s budget. Commencing in 1996 until the year 2000, five additional part-time Public Defenders were employed by Noble County. Again, all of these Public Defenders were contracted by the county to handle Court appointed cases. During this period of time, through Mr. Graft’s guidance, the Public Defender caseloads were kept to national and state standards so that no Public Defender had an overwhelming caseload. Because of his dedicated work, in the year 2000 Mr. Graft was able to present a plan to the Noble County Commissioners to form the Noble County Public Defenders’ Agency. Since Noble County was already maintaining appropriate caseloads, this allowed the County to be eligible for State reimbursement funding. This was approved by the Noble County Commissioners and the Indiana State Public Defender commission.
2002 brought further changes to the now newly formed Public Defender Agency. Mr. Graft retired at the beginning of this year and James J. Abbs was appointed Chief Public Defender. During his appointment, the Public Defender Board and the Noble County Judges decided that it would be in the best interest of Noble County to have a full-time Public Defenders’ office. That proposal was approved by the Noble County Commissioners and the Noble County Counsel on March 1, 2002 and commencing on April 1, 2002 Noble County became one of the first counties in the State of Indiana to employ full time Public Defenders. At that time, there were 2 full-time Public Defenders handling all Felony and Juvenile cases and 2 three quarter time Public Defenders handling all Misdemeanor cases. The initial office space for the Public Defenders’ Agency was on the 4th floor of the Courthouse in 2 rooms which had previously had been used by the Courts as their law library.
The next major change within the Public Defenders’ office came in April 2004. On that date, because of the necessity of growth within the Court house, the Public Defenders were moved to their present location on 110 E. Jefferson St, Albion, Indiana. This office space, which the Public Defenders’ staff was allowed to design, is a building consisting of 3 offices, a conference room with video conferencing and two workstations for support staff. This office is also completely wired for computers and nearly all of the research materials are now obtained electronically through the internet and related services giving this office the state of the art technology. During the end of the year 2006 the Public Defenders were allowed to add an additional staff member making the first growth in the office since the year 1999. An additional attorney was hired to handle conflict cases. In 2010, the Agency began handling CHINS cases and added another attorney to their staff.
The Noble County Public Defenders’ Agency continues to grow through its outreach to the community. Its most important obligation is to the clients that they are appointed to represent. The agency still works with the community in setting up rehabilitation programs and assists in education programs throughout the county. The agency is an effective and efficient operation for Noble County which serves its community by protecting those constitutional rights which are so important to this country. The Agency also serves as a source of information for individuals throughout Noble County and monitors activities to ensure that all citizens are treated fairly.
Mr. Dennis Graft