Category Archives: New Jersey

NJ Supreme Court opens PD applications to prosecutor scrutiny

The New Jersey Supreme Court has ordered the Administrative Office of the Courts to modify current procedures defendants must follow when applying for a public defender. According to the New Jersey Star Ledger, applicants who were previously told all information on their pd application would be confidential must now be informed that their financial data may be disclosed to the state in “appropriate” cases.

Based on this article alone, it appears those “appropriate” cases would be any that a prosecutor would like. As the court said, its decision “facilitates the state’s ability to prosecute false swearing and fraud,” because, you know, the more far-reaching power we give the state, the better!

In a jurisdiction where I once practiced, giving the state access to a client’s financial data became an incredible problem. For example, I once had a client testify in a speedy trial hearing that he’d suffered prejudice after years in prison awaiting trial because he’d lost his work tools and income. In response, the state trotted out his affidavit of indigence which was part of his application for a public defender. “Didn’t you swear here that when you were arrested you weren’t working and had no income?” they asked triumphantly. Needless to say, that was not a good moment for us.

Certainly in these times where public defenders nationwide are overworked and underfunded its important to make sure we are only representing those clients who truly qualify for our services, meaning those who really cannot afford private counsel. That said, the determination of indigence should be made by the public defender, it should be confidential, and there should be a fairly high barrier to any challenge to such a decision (by either a client denied or by another party). At the very least courts should require in camera inspection of any financial documents before turning them over to the state. Perhaps NJ is planning to do that. If not, it should.

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.