Lawyer Chad Butcher used to have to bounce around from office to office, depending on who was on maternity leave, while working at the Lexington public defenders office.
Fellow public defenders Chris Tracy and Brad Clark were crammed together in a tiny space there, at 111 Church Street, meaning they didn't have any privacy when they met with their clients.
But things have changed.
The local public defenders office, overseen by the state Department of Public Advocacy, recently opened a second downtown location, at 163 West Short Street, which gives the office more space for attorneys and their clients, and some room to grow, chief public defender Tom Griffiths says.
Butcher, Tracy and Clark, as well as Griffiths, are among the public defenders who have moved into the new location on the second floor of the Traditional Bank building.
The state Department of Public Advocacy bought the furniture for the new office, but the lawyers have to provide their own decorations. If they want to change the wall color, Griffiths said, they have to buy the paint and do the painting.
Tracy's new office is University of Kentucky blue and decorated with a framed American flag.
"This is the UK patriotic office," Griffiths said recently while giving visitors a tour of the new location.
In addition to more office space, the new location includes a file room and a conference room, which the Church Street location does not have. Griffiths has decorated the conference room with prints of scenes from the American Revolution — gifts from his parents.
The state Department of Public Advocacy is spending $120,000 a year on rent for the Short Street second-floor public defenders offices and third-floor office space for the department's capital defense unit for the eastern half of the state, which has never had a place to call home. (Griffiths oversees the defense of capital murder cases statewide for the Department of Public Advocacy.)
New furnishings for both entities on Short Street cost the Department of Public Advocacy $50,000, said Damon Preston, trial division director of the Department of Public Advocacy.
There is a proposal for spending an additional $85,000 to renovate the Church Street location, which is state-owned and rent-free, Preston said.
He said all of the money for the changes is coming from his department's existing budget.
Griffiths sees the changes as making good on promises the public defenders office made to the citizens of Fayette County to have enough staff and professional work space for attorneys and their clients.
The Fayette County public defenders office is the largest of its kind that is run by the state, Griffiths said. Only the Jefferson County public defenders office, which is not run by the state, has a bigger caseload, he said.
In 2007, the first year for the state-run public defenders office in Fayette County, the office had 15 lawyers and a caseload of 695 cases for each attorney. This year, the caseload per attorney is 545. A new lawyer joined the staff this week, bringing the total number of public defenders to 22. The Department of Public Advocacy has authorized 23 lawyers for its Lexington office, Preston said.
Griffiths said he gave his staffers the choice of staying at or leaving the Church Street location. Longtimers at Church Street wanted to stay there. Others who were "double- and triple-bunked" at Church Street wanted to move. Only two people said they didn't care where they worked, Griffiths said.
"Everybody got their wishes," he said.
Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.