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.
From MSNBC (making the big time!):
The sequester is often described as an “across the board” spending cut–a term that implies shared sacrifice. For the criminal justice system, however, the cuts are one-sided. According to estimates from around the country, the sequester is hitting public defenders and courts far harder than prosecutors. Whether by design or default, the sequester is systematically magnifying inequities in the courts–and potentially undermining constitutional rights. The details vary by region, but in many federal districts, public defenders are facing cuts that are double to quadruple the size of their opponents across the court room. According to reports by defenders and government officials, that’s the case from Texas to Arizona and New Jersey to Massachusetts, where federal defenders are laboring under a $51 million shortfall.
Read the entire story here.
Public defenders in King County, WA, are in for some changes this fall when county officials will put a new indigent defense system before voters. From Real Change News:
More than 200 public defense attorneys handle about 25,000 cases in King County each year, serving anyone who does not have enough money to pay for an attorney.
Four independent nonprofits that contract with King County employ these public defense attorneys.
In November, voters will decide whether the attorneys should instead work for a single public defender selected by the King County Executive from a pool of candidates nominated by a public defense advisory board. The defender would work for a four-year term and answer to the executive.
The system had to change one way or another. A 2011 court decision and subsequent settlement found that King County owes retirement benefits to current and past employees. The public defenders had been doing county-funded public defense work without receiving the same benefits as other county employees because they worked for independent nonprofits.
The settlement in the case established that the public defenders are employees of King County.
Read the full story for a few more details on the proposed changes to a system which the story alleges “is known throughout the nation for being unique.”