Judicial officials in Judicial District 7 (Bertie, Halifax, Hertford, and Northampton counties) have announced the establishment of a public defender office to serve the district. A 2022 report from the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (NCAOC) indicated there were not enough defense attorneys available to provide legal services to indigent court-involved residents in the district. As a result, a collaborative effort to create the new public defender office was led by Halifax County Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Brenda G. Branch and Senior Resident Superior Court Judge for Bertie, Hertford, and Northampton counties Cy A. Grant in partnership with the North Carolina Office of Indigent Defense Services (NCIDS), NCAOC, Senator Bobby Hanig, Representative Michael Wray, and the local defense bar.
“The implementation of the public defender office will be a huge asset for the courts to move cases expeditiously by increasing the number of attorneys available in court to represent indigent citizens,” said Judge Branch. “This public defender office was made possible through extensive collaborations among judicial staff in all four counties, the Administrative Office of the Courts, Indigent Defense Services, the defense bar, and county citizens. We want thank our local legislators Representative Michael Wray and Senator Bobby Hanig for advocating in the Legislature for funding approval in this past budget.”
A chief public defender will be selected and installed in January 2024 to manage the new Public Defender Office. The chief public defender will determine how to staff the 12 attorney and 6 staff positions. The chief public defender is an appointed position and will be appointed every 4 years. The main office will be located at the Northampton County Courthouse in Jackson and satellite offices will be located in Bertie, Hertford, and Halifax counties.
“By implementing the Public Defender Office along with the Halifax Adult Recovery Court (HARC) Program, courts are implementing programs to improve court services to the citizens of Bertie, Halifax, Hertford, and Northampton counties,” said Judge Branch.