Author Archives: PD Girl

FL State Court Rules That Overworked PDs Can Withdraw From Cases

From The Miami Herald:

Describing what it called a “damning indictment” of representation for poor criminal defendants, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the Miami-Dade County public defender’s office could withdraw from a large chunk of felony cases because of excessive workloads.

This decision lifts the spirits of attorneys everywhere who, due to crippling caseloads, have been confronted with the difficult decision of picking and choosing which client gets legally competent and diligent representation and which do not, Miami-Dade Public Defender Carlos J. Martinez said….

The court divided 5-2 on the issue, with Justice Peggy Quince writing a majority opinion that said attorneys who represent defendants in third-degree felonies often have as many as 50 cases set for trial in a week.

“Clients who are not in custody are essentially unrepresented for long periods between arraignment and trial,’’ wrote Quince, who was joined in the majority by justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, Jorge Labarga and James E.C. Perry. “Attorneys are routinely unable to interview clients, conduct investigations, take depositions, prepare mitigation, or counsel clients about pleas offered at arraignment. Instead, the office engages in ’triage’ with the clients who are in custody or who face the most serious charges getting priority to the detriment of the other clients….”

Attorney General Pam Bondi and a statewide group of prosecutors fought the public defender’s attempt to pull out of the cases. During Supreme Court oral arguments last year, Louis Hubener, an attorney for the state, pointed to a law that bars public defenders from withdrawing from cases solely because of “inadequacy of funding or excess workload.”

The Supreme Court found the law constitutional, though it disagreed about how the law should be applied.

“(The) statute should not be applied to preclude a public defender from filing a motion to withdraw based on excessive caseload or underfunding that would result in ineffective representation of indigent defendants nor to preclude a trial court from granting a motion to withdraw under those circumstances,’’ the majority opinion said.

Public defenders sometimes withdraw from representing people because of conflicts that arise, such as two clients being implicated in the same crime. The state has a system for the appointment of other attorneys to take cases when such withdrawals occur.

It’s probably safe to say that similar situations of underfunded PD systems, being routinely unable to prep cases or interview witnesses, and essentially engaging in “triage” are rampant in other states, as well.  Perhaps this decision can be influential in other states facing similar issues. One can hope…

Former Federal PD to Become Federal Judge

From ABC News:

Jane Kelly will become a federal appeals court judge Friday with an unusual background that supporters say makes her a perfect fit for the job and a potential U.S. Supreme Court candidate someday.

The 48-year-old attorney has spent her career as a public defender representing low-income criminal defendants, a rarity in the ranks of appeals court judges who are often former prosecutors and trial judges. She’ll become just the second woman in the 122-year history of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles cases in seven states from Arkansas to the Dakotas…

She had so much support that her confirmation received a 96-0 vote in the Senate less than three months after she was appointed, speedier than any other circuit judge nominated by Obama…

Associates say she is a smart legal thinker who has zealously defended the rights of even the most publicly despised clients, including a notorious mailbox bombing suspect and the biggest white-collar criminal in Iowa history. Even prosecutors who disagreed with her in court praise Kelly, who will take the oath of office privately.

Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat, recommended Kelly to Obama to replace retiring Judge Michael Melloy after she rose above an “outstanding” pool. He said she would be the first career public defender on the circuit, bringing “a critically important perspective.”

Outsourcing Public Defense in Missouri

In Missouri, a local bar association has offered to bid on cases assigned to the public defenders’ office when the public defenders have too many cases to handle.

From News-Leader.com:

“We said, ‘why don’t we privatize a portion of your caseload?’ because we think local attorneys can handle it more cost effectively. They don’t require health insurance, vacation and so on, it would just be another book in their practice,” Galloway said…

The Missouri State Public Defender System agreed that a partial privatization program with the Christian County Bar Association and local public defenders would be beneficial…

Rep. Stanley Cox, R-Sedalia, a former Pettis County prosecuting attorney, crafted a bill in 2013 to make outsourcing public defense legal. Rather than an outright refusal of cases, the defender could bid smaller cases to private attorneys…

Galloway adds that the outsourcing could speed up case progression for simple cases that often don’t end with trials, but guilty pleas.

“We can reduce costs and the money will be paid here locally to attorneys that are bidding on the work, helping the local economy,” Galloway said.

New Jersey Public Defenders Sue to Keep Clients Nearby

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

New Jersey’s public defenders are going to court to stop Gloucester County from closing its county jail and splitting its 250 to 350 inmates among four other county jails, including one in Newark…

“This could be a nightmare for public defenders who have 100 indictable cases and 100 files in one stage or another, and who struggle to see their clients in a jail that’s right next to their office,” said the attorney representing the public defenders, Justin T. Loughry, of Loughry & Lindsay L.L.C. in Camden.

“This case raises extremely important constitutional issues,” including the right to due process and the right to the effective assistance of attorneys, said Loughry, a former public defender…

The public defenders rely on jail visits to get familiar with the cases because there is no space at the courthouse for attorney-client conversations, the suit says.

Space for attorney-client conversations is also limited at the other jails. Because inmates could be moved without warning, the attorneys would have to try to locate their clients each time they would want to talk or send a letter.

County in Michigan Revamps Public Defender System

I would like to note that this post is brought to you by Gideon  telling me I needed to do a post. He is bossy like that.

From Michigan Live:

Muskegon County’s much-criticized system of providing attorneys for p.or criminal defendants and families with child-neglect cases is about to be scrapped.

Replacing it will be something completely new for West Michigan and rare in the state: a county Public Defender Department, with staff attorneys on the county payroll devoted full time to public defense work…

The proposed system, modeled after Washtenaw County’s, will replace a hodgepodge of contracts with private attorneys. The contracted attorneys also do other work for paying clients, making their public defender work in theory a part-time job, though most devote long hours to the work.