SPRINGFIELD -- Three dozen jobs in the State Appellate Defender’s office are being eliminated, a result of the state’s decision to abolish the death penalty.

SPRINGFIELD -- Three dozen jobs in the State Appellate Defender’s office are being eliminated, a result of the state’s decision to abolish the death penalty.

State Appellate Defender Michael Pelletier said layoff notices have already been issued to employees whose jobs focused on providing assistance in death penalty cases.

“It’s bittersweet,” said Pelletier. “Obviously, our position would be to abolish the death penalty. We’ve had lawyers working their entire careers on it -- and then all of a sudden, guess what? I’ve saved a life and now I’ve lost a job.”

In all, 37 positions will be eliminated from the Appellate Defender’s office, although the number of layoffs comes to only 28, because not all of the positions were filled.

Eleven of the positions are in the Springfield office, where six people will lose their jobs.

The cutbacks will save a total of $4.7 million, Pelletier said, counting salaries and other associated costs.

The bulk of the cuts are in the capital trial assistance unit, which helped lawyers who represented defendants in death penalty cases. All 28 positions in that unit are being eliminated, Pelletier said. They include not only attorneys, but also investigators, paralegals and “mitigators,” social workers who searched for factors that could mitigate a death sentence.

A handful of jobs in the capital post-conviction unit will be spared, but only for a year. The unit will continue to represent 10-11 clients on post-conviction petitions that were already filed.

Pelletier said there is an ethical obligation to continue that work. As those issues are resolved over the next year, he said, he hopes some of the six lawyers in the unit can be absorbed elsewhere in the office.

The office handles criminal appeals for defendants who cannot afford their own attorneys. Pelletier said the office takes about 3,000 cases a year.

 

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.