Retired county judge will serve as administrator of assigned counsel

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 December 2020 at 7:07 pm

File photo from July 2017 by Tom Rivers: James Punch, retired Orleans County Court judge, will serve as administrator of the assigned counsel plan in Orleans County.

ALBION – A retired Orleans County Court judge is returning in a new role with the local court system.

James Punch has been appointed by the County Legislature to serve as administrator of the assigned counsel plan. He will be paid $35,000 for the role in 2021.

Punch retired as county court judge on July 29, 2017 after nearly 27 years as judge. He was the district attorney before that for five years. He was first elected at age 29.

Punch will take over as assigned counsel administrator, after Jeff Martin of Holley gave notice he was resigning from the post.

The Orleans County Bar Association voted and approved the recommendation that Punch serve as administrator. That was also choice of the Assigned Counsel Advisory Committee.

The county spends more than $500,000 a year on assigned counsel for residents who can’t afford an attorney for criminal or family court. There are about 50 attorneys on the county’s assigned counsel roster.

The administrator of the assigned counsel plan needs to make sure the attorneys don’t have any conflicts or past dealings with others involved in a case. The administrator will work with judges to find attorneys for cases.

The administrator also needs to ensure the residents meet income qualifications for indigent defense, and the administrator will assess the quality of legal services in the cases.

The administrator also should strive to make sure the cases are also rotated among the attorneys and that they follow consistent billing and reimbursement practices.

Punch was appointed to the position last week by the Legislature. The legislators also appointed former Medina Police Chief Jose Avila, who is retired from that job, to provide investigative service for the Public Defender in 2021. Avila will be paid $55 an hour, with the cost not to exceed $20,000 for the year.