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Allegany County set to appoint Peter Degnan to lead the new Office of Conflict Defender

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Public Safety Committee approves, full board will vote February 22

By Andrew Harris

In late November of 2022, legislators created a new county government agency, the Office of the Conflict Defender. The goal of this new layer of county government is to provide better legal representation for those in the criminal justice system, and to save money. Our previous reporting about the new office provided this synopsis of that dynamic:

“In Allegany County when someone is arrested they often qualify for a public defender and our court system is mandated to provide that public defender. The defendent must be proivded that legal counsel on a timeline as a matter of basic civil rights. If Allegany County fails to provide that defense within the statuatory deadline, the defendent walks free. To avoid that injustice to the people, our county regularly pays a premium to lawyers outside the jurisdiction, also known as “assigned counsel.” Hiring lawyers from other counties to represent defendents is not cheap.”

Enter longtime local lawyer Peter Degnan, who has an office in Belmont NY. Public Safety committee members have just approved Degnan to lead this new office. From the minutes of that committee meeting:

Requesting a Resolution Appointing Attorney Peter J. Degnan as Conflict Defender

County Administrator Carissa Knapp requested a resolution to appoint Attorney Peter J. Degnan as Conflict Defender for a term of office commencing March 1, 2023, and expiring December 31, 2025, at an annual salary of $103,680. It is also requested that Resolution 321-22 be amended, regarding the Compensation of Section IV Non-Graded County Officers and Employees, to reflect the incorporation of the Conflict Defender title and salary. The request was approved on a motion by Legislator Healy, seconded by Legislator Barnes, and carried.

The finances of this office have raised some concerns. Currently, this expansion of local government is fully funded by the Hurrell-Harring Settlement fund. As counties across New York adopt laws which create conflict defender offices, that fund could eventually dry up.

The full board of legislators will meet on Wednesday February 22nd at 2pm. Like all county public meetings, you can watch the live stream here: https://www.facebook.com/alleganycountyny

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