OSWEGO — Oswego County is finally getting its first public defender to oversee a new office that will provide legal representation for defendants who can’t afford a lawyer.
At the end of its monthly meeting last week, the Oswego County Legislature unanimously voted to hire Louis R. Lombardi, of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania, as the county’s first-ever public defender.
Lawmakers technically just approved a professional services contract with Lombardi at a rate of $706 a day. That’s to give him time to close his law practice and relocate to Oswego County for the job, which comes with a residency requirement. He starts April 3 and will begin his full two-year term once the legislature formally appoints him in May.
Lombardi said that while he does know some people in the area, he was drawn to both the opportunities and the obvious difficulties of the job.
“What’s really good about this job is also what makes the job scary,” he said Monday. “It’s building something from the ground up, which is a challenge.”
County lawmakers voted in late 2021 to use money from the state to create a public defender’s office, but the process dragged on for more than a year as the county struggled to hire a public defender to get the office off the ground. It still has no attorneys, secretaries or physical office. Lombardi said he will be living in the city of Oswego and working out of temporary office space as he builds the office from scratch over the next year.
In 2014, the state settled a class-action lawsuit that dealt with inadequate legal representation and agreed to provide more money to counties to improve their indigent legal services. Oswego County opted to use that money to create a public defender’s office.
The county issued a call for applications in early 2022 and again in December.
Lombardi has spent about 25 years as a lawyer and had a 20-year career with the New York Police Department, rising to the rank of captain. He said the opportunity to help indigent defendants and the fact that he will have to build the office from scratch appealed to him.
“I think it’s a great challenge and that’s what really drew me to it,” he said.
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