Thursday, 29 March 2007

Privatized Death Row lawyers may be dropped

March 29, 2007


Privatized Death Row lawyers may be dropped

By Dara Kam, Palm Beach Post

TALLAHASSEE - A pilot program initiated by Gov. Jeb Bush four years ago
privatizing a state agency representing Death Row inmates may be ended in
response to criticism from Florida Supreme Court justices and others.

The Florida Senate agreed Wednesday to reestablish the northern Capital
Collateral Regional Counsel, the office of state-employed lawyers and
support staff that Bush did away with in favor of a registry of private
attorneys representing inmates condemned to death.

Bush's move was designed to save the state money and speed up the appeals
process, but instead has resulted in delays because of inexperienced private
lawyers and a lack of oversight, according to the Commission on Capital
Cases, which consists of judges and lawmakers.

This year Supreme Court Justice Raul Cantero, appointed by Bush,
characterized the work of the private attorneys handling the final appeals
for Death Row convicts as "some of the worst lawyering I've seen."

Last month, Supreme Court Chief Justice R. Fred Lewis asked Senate Criminal
Justice Appropriations Committee Chairman Victor Crist, who also chairs the
Commission on Capital Cases, to reinstate the northern region.

"This Court is unanimously and firmly of the view that the CCRC structure
with the three regional offices ... is far superior to the private attorney
registry approach," Lewis wrote, urging the legislature to do away with the
private registry.

Crist said he hopes to convince the House to agree although the House budget
does not include a similar appropriation, which would require about another
$600,000 to purchase office equipment such as desks and computers that were
done away with in 2003.

"I felt reinstating that region would be the wisest thing to do in order to
maintain a level of credibility in this process that the courts were
comfortable with," Crist told the Commission on Capital Cases.

Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, a former prosecutor who opposed privatizing
the counsels and who serves on the Commission on Capital Cases, said he
supports reinstating the northern state-run office.

"Everyone who's looked at this comes to the conclusion it's not better and
it's not cheaper. ... It's just a clumsier way to do it," he said. "There's
no reason to privatize. You're not saving money and you're not getting
better lawyers."


Source : Palm Beach Post

No comments: