published Monday, June 18th, 2012

Hamilton County District Public Defender's Office moves

Piles of boxes spilled out of the new Hamilton County District Public Defender's Office on the Tivoli building's third floor Friday as Ardena Garth and her staff unpacked into a new space.

Since her office's inception in 1989, the public defender's office had been at 701 Cherry St., Suite 300.

"We've growth since then," Garth said. "We needed more space, and we needed a change."

Her attorneys shared space in the previous building, but now all will have their own offices.

Garth, whose office is funded primarily by the state with assistance from the county, said state criteria drove her decision about where to relocate. She worked with representatives from the state to help identify available offices, she said. They found space at 701 Broad St.

Garth was somewhat limited because she couldn't sign a lease longer than two years, which is the remaining time in her four-year term.

She requested more money from the county this year to help pay for the rent increase. The county gave Garth $12,000 this year to help pay the rent. She has asked for $18,000 for the fiscal year that begins July 1. She was unable Friday to provide the total rental cost for her former or her new offices because the paperwork was packed for the move.

County Mayor Jim Coppinger's proposed budget includes sufficient funds to cover that rent increase. County commissioners are scheduled to vote on the budget June 28.

When Garth appeared last month before county commissioners in her budget hearing, Commissioner Greg Beck asked why her office isn't in the city/county courts building like criminal courts and the district attorney's office.

"I always wondered why the public defender's office was somewhere else," he said.

She said her office didn't exist when the city/county courts building was erected.

Times Free Press archives show the courts building design was approved in 1988 and completed in 1992.

On Friday, Garth said that despite the hassle of moving, her assistant public defenders will be in court today.

She said Criminal Court Clerk Gwen Tidwell had been allowing her staff access to computers in the clerk's office during the transition.

"At least everybody has an office," Garth said while standing in the new reception area. "We have a lot more organized space."

about Ansley Haman...

Ansley Haman covers Hamilton County government. A native of Spring City, Tenn., she grew up reading the Chattanooga Times and Chattanooga Free Press, which sparked her passion for journalism. Ansley's happy to be home after a decade of adventures in more than 20 countries and 40 states. She gathered stories while living, working and studying in Swansea, Wales, Cape Town, South Africa, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Ga., and Knoxville, Tenn. Along the way, she interned for ...

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