Geary County was recently revealed to have an unlicensed lawyer on its indigent defense contract.
The problem seems to have been resolved after a recent county commission meeting after a discussion between County Counselor Steve Opat and Commissioner Trish Giordano.
Opat said he had been under the impression the unlicensed lawyer in question, Sam S. Kepfield of Hutchinson, was working to restore his license to practice law after losing it in March of 2019.
“The caveat was that, if he got reinstated, the court would go along with it,” Opat said.
He said he’d had a conversation with Kepfield where Opat told Kepfield he would have to be released from the contract because he hadn’t regained his license.
“I said, ‘this is a voidable contract and if you can’t get reinstated, it’s void and I’ve waited for a month now. I appreciate it' — and I like Sam, Sam’s a good guy, I don't know if you know him — he is a good lawyer … In any case, Sam agreed to withdraw his name,” Opat said.
Kepfield had his license suspended in 2019 for “misconduct in violation of the Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct for lack of diligence; terminating the representation of a client; failure in safekeeping property; making a false statement in connection with a disciplinary matter; misconduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or representation; and violating his probation plan by violating the professional rules,” according to a report by the Hutchinson News.
The issue came to light after Giordano called Kepfield’s presence on the county contract into question.
“I was glad that Mr. Kepfield had removed himself because I was going to make a motion to not fulfill that contract,” Giordano said in an interview conducted after the meeting. "Mr. Opat is attempting to renegotiate with some other, more qualified attorneys."
Some of these attorneys are more local than Kepfield, she said.
In addition to concerns over Kepfield’s suspended license, Giordano had raised the issue that there were local attorneys who wanted to be on the contract.
One of them who had expressed an interest is local attorney Florence Cornish.
Giordano said she felt it would be prudent to have Cornish on the contract, as she believed it would save the county money. Cornish already takes cases for the county that are much similar to those she would take on the county’s indigent contract, making about $80 an hour when she would likely make less on the contract.
“She wants to be on the contract because she feels that she — you know, she cares about those kids,” she said of Cornish.
According to Giordano, the rate for attorneys on the contract varies depending on case load, the types of cases they take and similar factors.
Giordano said she believed the indigent defense contract was underfunded.
She made a motion to cut her own and the other the county commissioners’ pay by $5,000 per year and use those funds to pay lawyers on the indigent defense contract, but the motion died for lack of a second.
Despite this, Giordano expressed hope for the future of the contract and the attorneys on it.
“I’m optimistic that it will be resolved shortly,” she said.