Prosecutor cries foul after defendant asks for public defender then posts $55,000 cash bond in drug overdose death case

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James B. Woolsey, 37, Greenfield

HANCOCK COUNTY — Hancock County Prosecutor Brent Eaton is asking officials in Hancock County Superior Court 1 to revisit a defendant’s request for a public defender. The defendant, James B. Woolsey, 37, Greenfield was able to post a $55,000 cash bond to get out of jail last week shortly after being arrested for a serious charge after telling the court he didn’t have the money to pay for his defense.

Eaton’s office officially filed paperwork on the objection Monday, indicating the state’s motion in objection to pauper counsel.

Woolsey was charged with a Level 1 felony count of dealing a controlled substance resulting in death. He was accused of supplying illegal drugs that caused the death of Joseph Shephard, 41, Greenfield, from an incident in February.

During an arraignment hearing in Superior Court 1 on April 26, Woolsey told the court he needed help to pay for his counsel. During the indigence hearing section of the process, Woolsey told the court he made $20 an hour, about $700 a week, and stated he had no savings or other assets to pay for counsel, court records state.

Due to the financial information taken during the initial hearing, the court appointed a public defender and then set a $55,000 cash bond. Woolsey, however, was able to come up with the bond money and paid $55,000 cash the very next day, April 27. He was released from the Hancock County Jail just a day after his hearing, where he had been staying since the official charges were filed April 25.

Court records show the state now objects to the indigence finding due to Woolsey paying a substantial bond shortly after the hearing where he stated to the court that he needed pauper counsel due to lack of funds.

“It will be the judge’s call because they are the ones who determine if a person is eligible for a public defender or not,” Eaton said.

Eaton said that his office always wants people to have competent counsel, but it does seem the answers Woolsey gave about the assets he had just didn’t square with his ability to post a significant cash bond so quickly.

“Everyone in county government and everyone working for the citizens wants to be good stewards of public money, so our position is if Mr. Woolsey is able to post that kind of cash bond then it sure seems he should be able to not have the taxpayers of Hancock County pick up his legal fees,” Eaton said.

These types of filings are rare, Eaton went on to say, because the vast majority of people who ask for and are given pauper counsel don’t turn around and come up with a significant amount of cash the next day and bond out of jail.

“This one stood out and that’s why we filed the objection,” Eaton said.

The prosecutor’s office expects to see more of these types of filings, Eaton said, where there is a significant cash bond and a defendant has a public defender yet is able to come up with money to get out of jail.

“As we see more of these types of things, it’s likely we will have potentially more of these types of motions in the future if we see similar circumstances,” Eaton said.

When cash bonds are set over $10,000 and people ask for a public defender, but are then able to bail out, Eaton said it’s up to his office to investigate and raise objections.

“We want people to have a lawyer because the system does work better when you have competent counsel to help but, in this instance, when you can come up with over $50,000 cash for a bond in less than a week, it’s reasonable for a judge to take a second look and see if the taxpayers should be paying for the lawyer,” Eaton said.

The prosecutor’s office wants the ruling for pauper counsel rescinded and, if not, they want the court to make Woolsey show documentation proving he deserves pauper counsel.

Woolsey is due back in court at 1 p.m. May 10, where Judge D.J. Davis is scheduled to hear and rule on the objection.

In addition to the Level 1 felony charge, he’s also been charged with a Level 5 felony count of dealing a scheduled I controlled substance. The most serious charge against Woolsey carries between 20 to 40 years in prison with an advisory sentence of 30 years.