Florida Defender's Office Saves Taxpayers Millions

Sunday, 17 Jan 2010 07:54 PM

By Dan Weil

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People generally don’t associate a government agency with either doing well or saving taxpayers money.

But both those aims are being achieved by Florida’s five Offices of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel. They were created by Republican Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007.

And that model is one that could be copied and used by cash-strapped state governments around the nation.

The offices represent indigent Floridians in criminal and civil cases where they are entitled to legal representation even though the public defender’s office has an ethical conflict.

See Video: Florida’s Phillip Massa shares the formula that could save state governments billions in taxpayer funds - Click Here Now

Phillip Massa, who directs the office for the Fourth District Court of Appeal, told Newsmax.TV’s Kathleen Walter that his district saved taxpayers about $3 million in the last fiscal year and that the five offices as a whole saved the state $25 million to $30 million.

The fourth district office has taken on about 17,000 cases since it began two years ago. Those cases were previously assigned to private attorneys.

“The cost at that point couldn’t be brought under control,” said Massa, a former assistant attorney general. “They were rising around $20 million a year. With the model we have, we can
control costs.”

The fourth district has a $7 million budget, and came in about $1 million under budget in its first year, he says.

“We can save money because when you have a model such as this, where the representation is brought in house, you have attorneys that are working full-time on the case,” Massa said.

“That’s why we’re able to control the quality and the costs. I run the agency like a business. I look at every bill that comes in the agency, and I sign off or I don’t sign off.”

Massa says he keeps in mind that it’s the public’s money he is spending. “If I have an expert who wants to charge $2,500 for an opinion, I’ll negotiate that down to $1,500 or $1,000.”

California has a similar program, and significant savings would be achieved if it was adopted nationwide, Massa says.

“I think we do a quality job. . . . . I was able to attract a fantastic group of attorneys.”

See Video: Florida’s Phillip Massa shares the formula that could save state governments billions in taxpayer funds - Click Here Now

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