From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:
Fifty years after the Supreme Court’s landmark case, Gideon vs. Wainwright, we are a country — and a state — in a crisis that most of us, Wahl notwithstanding, know or care little about. We should.
“We are how we treat the folks on the edge of society,” said 64-year-old Dan O’Brien, a respected lawyer preparing to retire after 33 years in the Hennepin County public defender office.
“The reason we are different from a lynch mob is that we have a system that entitles people to a fair trial and counsel,” O’Brien said. “Society is much better off if we can commit ourselves to making sure that everyone’s dignity is defended.”
This is why, 50 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled the way it did. “The court recognized that we cannot have equal justice unless poor people have the same kind of lawyers that you or I would pay for,” Rapping said.
“What the Supreme Court didn’t do is clearly outline what that meant,” he continued. “States have gotten the message that they need to give poor people a lawyer, but they don’t have to invest much in those lawyers.”
Although the American Bar Association’s standard for caseloads is 150 felonies per year per lawyer, public defenders often have three or four times that number, Rapping said.
Read the entire article.
From the Washington Post:
Federal budget cuts known as sequestration are taking a toll on lawyers representing those too poor to hire their own counsel. That means, of course, that it is ultimately the needy defendants and justice itself that are threatened.
Federal defenders faced furloughs of up to 20 days, but it varied among the 81 local offices and many had fewer unpaid days. Starting next month, pay for the private lawyers, known as “panel attorneys,” will drop from $125 an hour to $110. In capital cases, the fee will fall from $178 to $163. In addition, four weeks of their pay due in fiscal 2014 will be pushed into 2015.
No one weeps for those earning $110 an hour when so many people remain out of work. But many lawyers can make much more from well-heeled clients. More importantly, the pay cuts and the furloughs can hurt the administration of justice and that should insult everyone’s notion of fair play. Federal prosecutors have not been furloughed.
Read the entire article.
From The Washington Times:
Alarmingly, the federal public defender program is facing a crisis that may have a devastating impact on the ability of these lawyers to do their jobs, and on the fates of the people they represent.
Severe budget cuts, including those caused by sequestration, threaten to devastate federal defender offices across the county. The cuts to the federal defenders program have already forced these offices to furlough attorneys for up to 20 days this year. If Congress fails to provide adequate funding for 2014, a new round of budget cuts could force some offices to dismiss half their staff and force some offices to close.
Just as disturbing, the criminal dockets in our federal courts will become chaotic and unmanageable as federal defenders are forced to withdraw from cases because they are unable to continue to represent their clients. This resource-driven chaos has already begun to appear in various federal district courts across the country, particularly in complex, resource-intensive cases. For example, the trial of Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law in New York was recently delayed because his attorneys — federal defenders — were furloughed. These delays may hamper prosecutions, slow resolution of open cases, and cause some cases to be dismissed altogether if a defendant’s right to speedy trial is violated. This could prove to be a threat not only to justice, but to public safety.
Read the entire story here.