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Johnston County to get its first public defender this summer

Source: Office of Indigent Services

by Kelan Lyons, NC Newsline
March 14, 2024

Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Thomas H. Lock appointed A. Traynham Dorn to be Johnston County’s first public defender on Thursday.

Dorn spent more than 20 years in private practice representing people facing crimes in district and superior courts. She will be the Public Defender for Defender District 13 as of July 1, 2024.

Public defenders represent people who are legally entitled to counsel but can’t afford to hire their own attorneys. They can take on cases involving criminal charges, civil commitment, juvenile proceedings or loss of parental rights.

The executive director of the North Carolina Office of Indigent Defense Services told a state commission last year that almost half of North Carolina counties are a “legal desert,” meaning there is less than one lawyer for every 1,000 residents.

Johnston County was among the “legal desert” counties.

State legislators set aside money in the budget to fund eight new public defender districts, totaling $8,117,668 in the 2023-2024 Fiscal Year, and $17,210,351 in the 2024-2025 Fiscal Year. A lot of that money came from a reduction to the Private Assigned Counsel Fund, which pays private attorneys to take on the cases of people who don’t have the money to hire their own lawyers.

Thanks to the budget, about 60 of the state’s counties will be represented by a public defender’s office.

“This was a badly needed position in our state budget and I am grateful to Senator Benton Sawrey for his efforts, and to Representatives Larry Strickland and Donna White for their support on the House side,” Lock said in a statement. “I am also grateful to Chief Justice Paul Newby for his support of the constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel for all criminal defendants.”

NC Newsline is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. NC Newsline maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Rob Schofield for questions: info@ncnewsline.com. Follow NC Newsline on Facebook and Twitter.

This story is republished from NC Newsline under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.

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