Caseloads | Workloads

Gideon Alert: Pittsburgh symptomatic of Pennsylvania’s right to counsel problems

BY David Carroll on Monday, October 17, 2011 at 11:38 AM

"[D]ysfunctional family life is rarely observed by individual family members, who are so entrenched in the process that they cannot really see it for what it is." Thus concludes Allegheny County Office of the Public Defender Assessment, a report by the Institute for Law & Policy Planning (L&PP). The study, commissioned by Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), explains why it is that public defense attorneys within deficient systems cannot understand the depth and breadth of the on-going, chronic right to counsel problems in their own jurisdiction.  Because of that, public defense attorneys often cannot fix their own systemic problems.  The L&PP report remained hidden from public view for over two years and only came to light through the committed effort of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA) to get it released under Pennsylvania’s freedom of information laws.

 Fifteen years after filing a class action lawsuit alleging grossly inadequate and unconstitutional representation for clients of the Allegheny County Office of the Public Defender (“OPD”), the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania released a report today entitled A Job Left Undone: Allegheny County’s Fork in the Road, which describes ongoing, severe systemic problems with the OPD and calls upon county and court leaders and the county executive candidates to make a commitment to fix the agency. The report also reveals that county officials have been aware of the deplorable state of the OPD since at least late 2008, when a secret study they commissioned noted grave concerns about the OPD’s management and operations, yet officials took virtually no action to rectify the problems.

Author/Organization: American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA)
Publication Date: 10/17/2011

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A 1995 evaluation of the Allegheny County (Pittsburgh) PA public defender office.

Author/Organization: The Spangenberg Group
Publication Date: 11/1995

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 An Analysis of Problems at the Allegheny County Office of the Public Defender that Cause Systemic Violations of Clients’ Constitutional Right to Adequate Representation

Author/Organization: American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA)
Publication Date: 10/2011

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Gideon Alert: Undue prosecutorial influence on the 6th Amendment in Utah

BY David Carroll on Friday, August 26, 2011 at 11:47 AM

In Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312 (1981), the United States Supreme Court found that states have a “constitutional obligation to respect the professional independence of the public defenders whom it engages,” noting that a “public defender is not amenable to administrative direction in the same sense as other state employees”. In fact, the Court noted, a “defense lawyer best serves the public not by acting on the State's behalf or in concert with it, but rather by advancing the undivided interests of the client.” A new report by the American Civil Liberties Union of Utah (ACLU-Utah) finds that the state of Utah fails to uphold this constitutional obligation.  In “most” of the nine counties studied by the ACLU-Utah, the local prosecutor “routinely” is responsible for hand-selecting opposing defense counsel and often helps to negotiate the terms of defender contracts. Worse, the report highlights that in several counties defense attorneys must request trial-related expenses from the county attorneys.  

Gideon Alert: Cochise County, Arizona contemplates contract system in light of important State Court decision

BY David Carroll on Tuesday, August 16, 2011 at 1:55 PM

“The insidiousness of overburdening defense counsel is that it can result in concealing from the courts, and particularly the appellate courts, the nature and extent of damage that is done to defendants by their attorneys' excessive caseloads,” declared the Arizona State Supreme Court in State v. Joe U. Smith, 140 Ariz. 355, 681 P.2d 1374 (Ariz. Apr. 4, 1984).  The Smith Court found that the lowest bid system for obtaining indigent defense counsel in Mohave County (Kingman) violated the defendant’s right to due process.  In light of the Smith case, Arizona counties struggle to provide fiscal predictability to the taxpaying public, while ensuring the rights to counsel and due process of each indigent defendant. The Wilcox Range News reported on August 10, 2011 that one county – Cochise County (Bisbee) – is currently considering a proposal to switch from an assigned counsel system paying an hourly rate of $50 to a system paying a “flat fee of $150 per misdemeanor case and $900 per felony case.”

Gideon Alert: Connecticut backslides on right to counsel

BY David Carroll on Wednesday, July 27, 2011 at 9:46 AM
Like indigent defense systems throughout the country, Connecticut has recently had to let go forty-two public defender employees, including 23 lawyers, and is planning to eliminate 33 more positions, as reported in  the July 21, 2011 Boston Globe.  This is the result of what the Globe summarized as “a funding crisis for the nation’s judicial systems,” while government officials and state employee unions in Connecticut battle for power over the too few remaining dollars (see the June 30, 2011 New York Times).  The difference between Connecticut and other states where similar lay-offs are occurring is that Connecticut’s right to counsel system has been closer than most states to fulfilling the promises of the Sixth Amendment.

Gideon Alert: Washington State lawsuit exposes non-representation in municipal courts

BY David Carroll on Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 1:19 PM

On June 10, 2011, a class action lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court of Skagit County, Washington, by the law firm of Terrell Marshall Daudt & Willie PLLC and The Scott Law Group P.S., as reported in the June 20 Seattle Times.  The suit alleges that the cities of Mount Vernon and Burlington have breached their constitutional duties to operate a public defense system that provides effective assistance of counsel to indigent persons charged with crimes in their municipal courts. The complaint alleges that the defendants failed to: a) impose caseloads restrictions on public defenders; b) “monitor and oversee the public defense system;” c) “provide adequate funds for public defense;” and, d) “provide representation at all critical stages of the prosecution;” among others.   The cities’ failures, the complaint contends, have resulted in a constructive denial of the right to counsel under Gideon v. Wainwright.  The lawsuit asks for injunctive and declaratory relief to prevent further violations and to protect the constitutional rights of all indigent persons charged with crimes in the municipal courts of Mount Vernon and Burlington. Or, as co-lead attorney Matthew Zuchetto states in the plaintiffs’ press release,“[a]t the end of the day, our clients are simply asking for one thing: to fix the system."

On September 20, 2007, the Washington State Bar Association Board of Governors adopted updated Standards for indigent defense services as proposed by the WSBA Committee on Public Defense.

Author/Organization: Washington State Bar Association
Publication Date: 09/20/2007

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Class action suit filed on behalf of defendants facing misdemeanor charges in the municipal courts of Mount Vernon and Burlington, in Skagit County, Washington.  The complaint alleges, among other things, that the contract defenders are routinely in violation of their performance obligations to their public clients, and thus the municipalities are liable for a constructive denial of the class's 6th Amendment right to counsel.

Author/Organization: Terrell Marshall Daudt & Willie PLLC
Publication Date: 06/09/2011

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