Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Funding for Public Defender and Prosecutorial Offices

Funding for Public Defender and Prosecutorial Offices

National Law Journal has two excellent articles in the wake of problems with indigent defense funding in Georgia (here.) The first is, "Public Defenders, Prosecutors Face a Crisis in Funding." The second is, "Some States Are Getting It Right."

From the first article:

St. Louis is not an isolated example. A review by The National Law Journal
shows that many public defender's offices across the country are strained
beyond capacity or tipping into crisis.

Inadequate funding has led to constant turnover, staff reductions and
spiraling caseloads.

Litigation over poorly funded public defender systems are pending in Michigan
and Louisiana.

The problem has become so acute that in at least one jurisdiction, officials
toyed with the idea of trimming back workweeks.

New York attorneys, tired of inconsistent funding and a patchwork
organization, are pushing this month to launch a statewide public defender system.

In some jurisdictions, prosecutor's offices are not much better off. While
salaries are slightly higher, prosecutors in states across the country are
seeing the same budgetary stalemates and rising caseloads as their defense
colleagues.

In one jurisdiction, prosecutors are thinking of unionizing to counteract the
effect of static budgets and rising caseloads.

And:

Lawsuits against states regarding funding for their public defense systems are
pending in Michigan and Louisiana, but the problems are spread well beyond
their borders, said Malia Brink, indigent defense counsel for the
Washington-based National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

But the lawsuits, as well as the recent exonerations of innocent people, may
finally lead to some results, she said.

"If you talk publicly about providing for criminal lawyers and better
resources for lawyers, it's difficult to get people to understand why that's
necessary," she said.

"But if you tell them the result of not providing those resources is that the
wrong people go to jail and people who commit crimes remain free to commit
other crimes, they understand the situation better," Brink said. "They show
that public defense impacts public safety."

From the second article:

In addition to Maryland, several other states have significantly improved
their public defender systems in recent years, including Massachusetts,
Montana and North Carolina, said Malia Brink, indigent defense counsel with
the Washington-based National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

North Carolina in 2000 created the Office of Indigent Defense Services and its
13-member governing body, which assumed a number of responsibilities for the
public defender system, such as developing training, qualification and
performance standards for indigent persons' legal services. A number of other
steps were taken, such as expansion of the Office of the Capital Defender,
creation of new regional capital defender offices and several new district
public defender offices.

Massachusetts also took a number of steps in recent years to improve its
public defense system, such as increasing court-appointed lawyers' pay, which
were among the lowest in the nation.

And in Montana, the Montana Public Defender Act passed in 2005, creating a
statewide public defender system.

In Virginia, the General Assembly recently passed a bill that would allow
judges to wave caps on how much court-appointed lawyers can make and budged an
additional $8 million this month to pay for them.

More on indigent defense issues is here.

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