Defense Costs Exceed $360K in Delaware Prison Riot Case

Delaware taxpayers have shelled out more than $360,000 in legal defense costs for 18 prisoners charged in a deadly prison riot last year - and the bills will continue to pile up as the trials get under way.

The cost to taxpayers is expected to grow substantially as each of five separate groups of defendants stands trial on charges of participating in a hostage-taking and uprising at Delaware's maximum-security prison last year, during which prison guard Steven Floyd was killed.

"The work that the attorneys are doing is going to increase significantly as each trial grouping approaches, and as each trial occurs," defense attorney Patrick Collins said Thursday.

With jury selection in the first trial slated to begin Monday, the exact amount spent on each defendant remains unknown. Officials with the Office of Defense Services have refused to disclose that information despite a directive from Chief Deputy Attorney General Aaron Goldstein.

Goldstein issued an opinion in May after the ODS denied a request by The Associated Press for billing and expense records of the private attorneys appointed to represent the inmates charged in the riot at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center in February 2017.

ODS officials eventually agreed to provide a breakdown of costs per individual defendant, without identifying individual defendants or attorneys. The attorneys are paid $90 per hour.

As of Sept. 30, the defense costs included roughly $284,000 in attorney fees. Of that, about $36,600 was billed by Collins, who serves as coordinating counsel for all defense attorneys and as liaison with prosecutors and the court. Tens of thousands of additional charges have been racked up for investigative services, transcripts, support services, and transportation.

Overall costs per defendant as of Sept. 30 ranged from a low of $868.50 to a high of $55,097.44.

The defense costs are in addition to $7.55 million that state officials agreed to pay to settle a lawsuit filed on behalf of six Department of Correction employees, three of whom were taken hostage, and relatives of slain officer Steven Floyd.

Sixteen inmates are facing trials on charges of murder, kidnapping, assault and other crimes following the uprising. Two others, including one who has pleaded guilty and will testify for the prosecution, were charged with kidnapping, riot and conspiracy. Several of the defendants are already serving time for murder, including four serving life sentences.

As coordinating counsel, Collins has compiled more than 3,000 files for use by defense attorneys, including documents, videos, audio recordings and expert reports. Having one attorney coordinate and summarize documents had achieved a lot of efficiencies and eliminated a lot of redundant work, he said.

"The case is exponentially bigger than any standard murder case we've ever done," Collins said. "I think we've achieved a lot of economy of scale doing it this way."

Collins also noted that the hourly rate that the court-appointed defense attorneys are being paid to represent the inmates is significantly less than what they would be paid in their private practices.

"Every hour I spend on this case is an hour I'm not spending on another case," he said.

On the other side, the Department of Justice says its only-case specific quantifiable costs are about $22,600 for transcripts of investigative interviews.

"The prosecution of defendants associated with the death of Lt. Floyd is being handled by DOJ attorneys and staff as part of their job responsibilities ... so there is no quantifiable cost per case for staff time," DOJ spokesman Carl Kanefsky said in an email.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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