Otsego County Public Defender Mike Trosset proposed a solution for his department’s lack of dedicated office space during two presentations to county committees Thursday, Oct. 15, but he admitted the proposal has one big drawback: Trosset and his family would be the landlords.
Trosset spoke via Zoom to the county’s Public Works Committee on Thursday morning and to the Public Safety and Legal Affairs Committee in the afternoon. Both meetings are available to be viewed on the county’s Facebook page.
Trosset and his wife, Sally, own the property at 6432 State Route 28 in the hamlet of Oaksville, not far from Fly Creek, in the town of Otsego. He said he has been doing less and less private legal work since taking over the public defender’s office a few years ago and does not need the space, which has five offices, for his private practice.
Members of both committees agreed with Trosset’s assessment that the public defender’s office is in need of space, which is at a premium in county facilities. The public defender’s office staff is spread out among several buildings in the county complex at 197 Main St. in Cooperstown, and Trosset said he mostly works in the law library while on site.
Parts of the office, including where lawyers meet with clients, is adjacent to the district attorney’s offices and the courtroom, he said.
“It does have the perception where we are together as opposed to apart,” Trosset said.
Rep. Dan Wilber, R-Burlington, Edmeston, Exeter, Plainfield, the chair of the PSLA committee, said he toured the office space during the summer and he thinks it is much more appropriate for the public defender’s department.
“I think it’s a nice space,” he said. “It’s remote from the court and remote from the D.A., yet it’s close enough for convenience. I support the idea.”
Pete Oberacker, R-Decatur, Maryland, Westford, Worcester, the chair of Public Works, said he also supports moving forward with the plan.
“The space within the confines of what public works and building management is looking at is so tight,” Oberacker said. “I looked at the advantages of being, it doesn’t tie up our building maintenance. It doesn’t tie up our personnel. It’s not an added renovation costs like some of the other ideas we have had.”
The rent for the offices will be paid by Indigent Legal Services, Trosset said, which will reimburse the county.
Trosset said he knew his family owning the property could be seen as a conflict. He said ILS asked for him to prove the rental cost will be market value and not him charging more than market value. He said they also want county approval, including an ethics review.
With the tentative approval of the two committees, Trosset said he will offer a proposal to ILS and, if they approve, he will return to the committees to begin to get official county approval.
Trosset said if the move is approved, some of the office space his staff uses now will be freed up for other departments. But he will retain at least one office for on-site meetings.
At the PSLA meeting, Wilber said the committee had received a petition from the Otsego County Second Amendment Sanctuary Group requesting sanctuary from state gun laws in Otsego County. The petition was presented at the Board of Representatives meeting Wednesday, Oct. 7, and referred to PSLA.
However, Wilber said he wanted County Attorney Ellen Coccoma to look at it first and he also wanted to give the committee members time to think about it before they debated taking any action.
“I fully support all constitutional amendments and take our rights seriously and I think all of you do as well,” he said, “but we also took an oath of office, that we have to be careful with, that this is looked at judiciously and that we handle it properly.”