BILLINGS — The new chief administrator for the Office of the State Public Defender has resigned, saying he was meeting “palpable resistance” from program managers as he tried to cut costs to help the agency make up a $3.5 million budget shortfall.
Scott Cruse sent a letter of resignation to Public Defender Commission Chairman Richard “Fritz” Gillespie on Nov. 16 — less than three months after Cruse was hired, The Billings Gazette reports.
Cruse said he was asked to solve a budget crisis the office leadership had ignored for over a year, but wasn’t given the authority to implement any changes.
“I have observed a business-as-usual attitude, stalling and outright defiance toward any effort to save money by some program managers,” Cruse wrote in his resignation letter. “I face palpable resistance daily from some program managers” as well as public defenders who believe the budget-cutting efforts would mean the end of services for poor clients “and thus resist any effort to address the shortfall,” he wrote.
Gillespie followed with his resignation from the commission on Tuesday.
“I anticipated I would be working in the background supporting a new face and voice for the Office of the State Public Defender before the Legislature,” Gillespie wrote in his letter to Gov. Steve Bullock. Gillespie said he did not have the energy to represent the office during the upcoming legislative session.
The Public Defender Commission had proposed hiring 62 part-time attorneys to handle cases at a rate of between $37 and $48 an hour, rather than contracting out some cases to private attorneys for $62 an hour. The commission said the move would save the office $2.2 million during 2017 fiscal year. It also suggesting ending representation to presumed or unknown fathers in dependent neglect cases, saving the office $1.2 million in the 2017 fiscal year.
Chief Public Defender William Hooks declined to comment to The Associated Press on Friday while Bullock could not be reached for comment.
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