JSERI Blog Archives

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Gideon Alert: New Mexico Voters Approve Independence of Public Defender

Among the recent election results, the passage of a Constitutional Amendment in New Mexico stands as a significant milestone in public defense reform.  The state is now in compliance with Principle #1 of the ABA Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System – that the “public defense function, including the selection, funding, and payment of defense counsel, is independent.”

3:57 PM
Thursday, April 5, 2012

Gideon Alert: High Court Focuses on the Right to Effective Counsel in Plea Bargaining

The meaning of the Sixth Amendment’s promise of “effective counsel” has taken on additional dimensions over the past few weeks. On March 21, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions exploring the right to effective assistance of counsel during plea bargaining. In Missouri v.

9:46 AM
Monday, December 12, 2011

Gideon Alert: State-sanctioned commission finds Pennsylvania defaulting on the Sixth Amendment

On December 8, 2011, Pennsylvania’s Joint State Government Commission issued its report, A Constitutional Default: Services to Indigent Criminal Defendants in Pennsylvania, concluding that public defense providers labor “under an obsolete, purely localized system,” and that the structure of services “impedes efforts to represent clients effectively.” Echoing the 2003 report of the Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Judicial System, the new report states:

2:46 PM
Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Underrepresentation in Kentucky misdemeanor courts

“An inevitable consequence of volume that large is the almost total preoccupation in such a court with the movement of cases.  The calendar is long, speed often is substituted for care, and casually arranged out-of-court compromise too often is substituted for adjudication.  Inadequate attention tends to be given to the individual defendant, whether, in protecting his rights, sifting the facts at trial, deciding the social risk he presents, or determining how to deal with him after conviction.  The frequent result is futility and failure.” [Argersinger v. Hamlin, 407 U.S. 25 (1972), affording the right to counsel to every case with a potential jail sentence.]

3:34 PM
Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Gideon Alert: New Orleans DA questions appointed counsel for those who make bail

Bail is often posted by someone else on behalf of a defendant.  Another person may have all sorts of reasons for wanting to get the defendant out of jail.  For example, parents of an adult defendant may find themselves serving as caretaker for the defendant’s children while the defendant is in jail, or a defendant’s in-laws may want the defendant to get back to work to support the family.  But these people may not have a similar or any incentive to hire a lawyer to defend the charge against the defendant.  The assets of others cannot be considered in determining whether the defendant is indigent and entitled to a public lawyer, because others cannot be compelled to hire a lawyer for the defendant.  

9:48 AM
Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Gideon Alert: Proposed Washington Supreme Court standards give focus to national caseload debate

On October 31, 2011, the public comment period closed on proposed Washington State Supreme Court standards that would implement many of the American Bar Association’s Ten Principles of a Public Defense Delivery System.  These proposed standards have been long in the making.  The Washington State Bar Association (WSBA) Council on Public Defense developed the standards now being proposed for Supreme Court approval after months of seeking input from numerous stakeholders and interested parties.  Nonetheless, in the final days open for public comment, a flurry of opposition was mounted by local prosecutors, county and city policymakers, judges, the State Legislature, and even some public defense providers.  [All public comments are available on the Court’s website here].

3:16 PM
Monday, October 17, 2011

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

"[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.

10:38 AM
Friday, August 26, 2011

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

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.  

10:47 AM
Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Gideon Alert: Tennessee Supreme Court proposes rule change allowing flat-fee contracting

“When it comes to balancing the scales of justice for the poor with the expense, there simply are no easy answers,” concludes the Knoxville News Sentinel on August 21, 2011 in part of an in-depth, three-part series. The Tennessee Supreme Court proposed a new rule change that attempts to find an easy answer to controlling indigent defense costs by allowing flat-fee contracting for right to counsel services, but the Court has neglected to provide institutional safeguards that would protect the adequacy of representation.  If implemented, this move will buck the trend of other state Supreme Courts, in places like Iowa and Washington, that have recently banned these types of low-bid contracts because they create a direct financial conflict of interest between the attorney and each client.  Tennessee’s high court is accepting public comment on their proposed rule until September 1, 2011.

3:11 PM
Tuesday, August 16, 2011

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

“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.”

12:55 PM
Monday, August 8, 2011

Gideon Alert: Nevada DA seeks way around court-ordered performance guidelines

On August 9th, 2011, the Washoe County (Reno) District Attorney will ask the County Board to contract with Washoe Legal Services (WLS) to provide representation to criminal defendants in a reinstituted early case resolution (ECR) program.  The proposed contract is for WLS to handle every ECR case for a single flat fee of $80,000 with no extra funds set aside for investigations.   

11:44 AM
Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Update on New York state's struggles to meet Gideon's promise

On August 2, 2011, the Gotham Gazette provided a lengthy update on the state of New York’s ongoing struggle to provide a meaningful right to counsel for those otherwise unable to afford it.  The New York Civil Liberties Union class action lawsuit against the state, now in the discovery phase, continues to pressure policymakers to find a permanent resolution to the state’s severe, chronic challenges in meeting its 6th Amendment obligations.  Meanwhile, the newly established Office of Indigent Legal Services saw its initial $3 million budget cut in half, limiting its ability to aid county-based service providers in meeting foundational standards.  With progress slow, the Gazette provides a helpful round-up on where efforts currently stand, and where New York policymakers may look next in order to make larger strides towards constitutional compliance.

1:31 PM
Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Gideon Alert: Connecticut backslides on right to counsel

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.
8:46 AM
Wednesday, June 22, 2011

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

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."

12:19 PM
Friday, June 10, 2011

Gideon Alert: Mississippi takes first step toward unified statewide system

The Mississippi Office of State Public Defender was created earlier this session with the passage of SB 2563 consolidating the existing Office of Indigent Appeals and the Office of Capital Defense Counsel. The new office is tasked with providing “training and services to public defenders practicing in all state, county and municipal courts” and making recommendations for a future unified, statewide trial-level system. On June 9, 2011, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour announced the appointment of Ms. Leslie Lee as the first State Public Defender.

1:55 PM
Friday, June 10, 2011

Interview with New York's director of indigent legal services

The New York Law Journal sat down with current Director of the Office of Indigent Legal Service, Bill Leahy, to talk about the current state of the right to counsel in New York. Bill formerly headed up the Massachusetts’ Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) and uses the opportunity to compare and contrast public defense services in Massachusetts and New York. Worth the time to read.

1:34 PM
Thursday, June 9, 2011

Gideon Alert: Alabama creates statewide indigent defense system

On June 9, 2011, Alabama joined the majority of states in the country that have state-administered right to counsel systems. While Alabama already funds indigent defense at the state level, the legislation (SB 440) creates centralized oversight of right to counsel services, requires the promulgation of standards, and seeks to expand the number of staffed public defender offices. The bill is a compromise reach by a conference committee.  An earlier version of the bill was passed by the Senate (24-3) on May 25 and would have unified the state's divergent county-based right to counsel systems, but only a substitute bill passed in the House. The conference bill passed the Senate unanimously (32-0) and the House voted the measure through on an overwhelmingly bi-partisan basis (97-4-1). Governor Bentley is expected to sign the conference committee version of the bill into law, as he is largely viewed as the leader behind the movement to bring accountability to the delivery of right to counsel services.

8:00 AM
Thursday, May 12, 2011

Local bar association proposes added independence for Monroe County NY public defender

On May 9, 2011, the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported that the Monroe County Bar Association (Rochester, NY) presented the County Legislature with a set of recommendations to change the method by which the county’s public defender is selected.  Currently, the public defender is selected by direct appointment of the county legislature.  The proposal goes far toward compliance with national standards for the selection of the chief public defender.

11:01 AM
Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A lack of independence in Georgia’s public defense system

On May 4, 2011, the Associated Press reported new legislation was signed into law by Governor Nathan Deal altering the composition of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council.  The measure replaces “the current 15-member Georgia Public Defender Standards Council with nine new appointees tapped by the governor, the lieutenant governor and the House speaker. It also gives the director more power over whom the system hires.”

10:53 AM
Tuesday, April 26, 2011

California county notes the value of a strong defense

On April 26, the Daily Democrat featured a guest column demonstrating the value of public defenders from the county administration’s perspective.  The public defender’s office in Yolo County, California, “in addition to representing people individually, also provides a system of checks and balances on the criminal justice system as a whole.  It guarantees that no agency -- whether that be the District Attorney's Office or a police department -- is allowed to operate unchallenged and unquestioned.  The Constitution is very much a reaction to the events that came before it.”

9:54 AM
Friday, April 8, 2011

Pennsylvania’s continuing struggles to meet Gideon’s promise

Though the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania requires each of its counties to establish a public defender office, Pennsylvania remains one of only two states that have elected to delegate its entire right to counsel financial obligation under Gideon v. Wainwright and its progeny to its counties (Utah is the other).  Leaving counties responsible for administering and funding their criminal justice systems, and in particular indigent defense services, can put an undue hardship on local jurisdictions to ensure adequate representation of poor people accused with crimes.  Nationally, counties with fewer sources of revenue may have to dedicate a far greater portion of their limited budget to defender services than would counties in better economic standing. 

2:43 PM
Friday, April 8, 2011

Gideon Alert: Philadelphia death penalty assigned counsel rates challenged

On April 6, 2011, the Atlantic Center for Constitutional Representation (ACCR) filed a motion in four court-appointed death penalty cases arguing that the rate of attorney compensation Philadelphia County pays in capital cases is so low as to be unconstitutional, as reported in the Philadelphia Inquirer.  The petition seeks one of two remedies: a) adequate compensation in each of the four cases, or b) not allowing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to seek the death penalty in each case.

2:28 PM
Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Gideon Alert: North Carolina prosecutors cry foul over disparate funding

On March 30, 2011, North Carolina prosecutors made a PowerPoint presentation to the state legislature claiming to be out-resourced by the Office of Indigent Defense Services (IDS).  Asserting that IDS attorneys only handle half of the total criminal caseload handled by prosecutors yet outspend the district attorneys by nearly 43.5% ($132 million to $92 million), one district attorney was quoted in the Progressive Pulse as saying, “We’re outspent and outgunned every day in the courtroom.” (Full PowerPoint presentation is available here. Please note the presentation contains autopsy photos some may find inappropriate).

8:35 AM
Monday, March 28, 2011

New Article: A Quick Guide to National Standards for Indigent Defense

From time to time, NLADA will publish an in-depth explanation of a particular topic, concept, or standard related to indigent defense services.  Today, we have posted one such article: A Quick Guide to National Standards for Indigent Defense.

11:00 PM
Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Watch the BJA Webinar on the Right to Counsel

For those who missed the March 8 webinar, "The Right to Counsel: Standards & Solutions in a Downturned Economy," fret not ... We have posted the webinar onto our website, and you can watch it in its entirety here.  The webinar was presented by NLADA's research director David Carroll, on behalf of the USDOJ/BJA's National Training and Technical Assistance Center.

5:03 PM
Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Independence in New Mexico revisited

In a March 5th editorial, the Albuquerque Journal (subscription required) called for the New Mexico public defender system to be overseen by an independent commission.  New Mexico has a statewide, state-funded indigent defense system that provides services through a combination of staffed public defender offices and contract attorneys.  As we wrote in our February 28 Gideon Alert on the matter: “The dismissal of the public defender is expected with the election of a new governor because New Mexico’s chief public defender is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the governor, rather than through a non-partisan public defense commission as required by national standards including ABA Principle 1.”

10:26 AM
Friday, March 4, 2011

Gideon Alert: NJ Gov’s dismissal of state public defender sparks debate over independence

On March 3, the Newark Star-Ledger published an editorial on the New Jersey governor’s recent decision to remove the current chief public defender, Yvonne Smith Segars, and nominate a new candidate for the state senate’s approval.  New Jersey has a statewide, state-funded indigent defense system that provides direct services primarily through regional staffed public defender offices.  The state’s chief public defender, who oversees all right to counsel services in the state, is appointed by the governor with approval of the senate.

1:00 PM
Thursday, February 10, 2011

Free Webinar: The Right to Counsel: Standards & Solutions in a Downturned Economy

On March 8, 2011, JSERI director David Carroll will be conducting a national webinar entitled The Right to Counsel: Standards & Solutions in a Downturned Economy on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance. Program is geared toward policy-makers and judges, but services providers are welcomed. Please forward to key decision-makers in your state. Registration free, but limited.

9:52 AM
Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Missouri’s chronic right to counsel problems revisited

In a five-part spotlight series published on February 5, 2011, the Springfield News-Leader has focused once more on the state of Missouri’s chronic failure to provide a meaningful right to counsel as required under the Constitution.  Like all states, Missouri must provide counsel at public expense to those facing criminal charges who cannot otherwise afford to hire their own attorney.  The state intends for all right to counsel services to be provided to all indigent defendants through its statewide public defender system, but there are more people who require the public defender system’s services than it is set up to provide for.  Instead, the Office of the Missouri Public Defender has only enough resources to provide constitutionally effective representation to a percentage of those who are entitled to public representation.  

1:15 PM
Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Gideon Alert: Michigan Bar task force recommends how to deliver justice in the face of diminishing returns

“By almost every measure, indigent criminal defense as a whole in Michigan falls far short of accepted standards, undermining the quality of justice, jeopardizing public safety, and creating large and avoidable costs.  Michigan’s public defense system has fallen far short of acceptable standards for decades and is worsening … The cost of properly fixing the system is great; the cost of not fixing it is greater.” This is the conclusion reached about indigent defense services in the State Bar of Michigan’s “Judicial Crossroads Task Force” report Delivering Justice in the Face of Diminishing Returns, released January 26, 2011.  The report summarizes the conclusions of a Bar-convened task force composed of twenty-nine leaders of the Bar, business, civic and political communities, including 14 judges.

6:16 PM
Friday, January 28, 2011

Is one model of delivering right to counsel services inherently superior?

From time to time, NLADA will publish a more in-depth explanation of a particular topic, concept, or standard. Today, we have posted one such article: Understanding the debate about full-time public defender offices or appointment of private attorneys.

5:05 PM
Thursday, January 27, 2011

Debate on Massachusetts public defense proposal continues

The discussion about Massachusetts Gov. Patrick's proposed changes to the state's public defender system continues. Today, David Carroll, NLADA research director and author of Gideon Alerts, appeared on WBUR's Radio Boston show to provide national context to the discussion (stream online here).

5:16 PM
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gideon Alert: National Association of Counties calls for improved public defense services

On January 19, 2011, the National Association of Counties (NACo) called upon the United States Department of Justice to assist rural counties in overcoming systemic deficiencies that prevent them from meeting the states’ obligation to provide constitutionally-mandated indigent defense services.  Founded in 1935, NACo is the only national organization that represents county governments in the United States and provides essential services to America’s 3,068 counties.  In their press release, NACo recommends funding pilot public defender programs to serve multi-county jurisdictions, while reminding counties of NACo’s policy that public defenders be active participants in all criminal justice planning at the local level.

1:42 PM
Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Gideon Alert: MA Governor proposes disbanding statewide defender commission

On January 24, 2011, Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick proposed sweeping changes to the delivery of indigent defense services in the state.  Changes include abolishing the existing independent commission that oversees the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) and creating a new public defender department under the executive branch.  The Governor would also end CPCS’ primary reliance on the private bar and instead provide most services through full-time staffed public defender offices.  Under the Governor’s plan, the new department would also be responsible for conducting eligibility screening and collecting fees from indigent clients for services.

10:50 AM
Thursday, January 6, 2011

New York Court certifies class in NYCLU lawsuit

On May 6, 2010, we reported that New York’s Highest Court allowed the NYCLU lawsuit to proceed.  Two months later a trial court judge ruled that the class could not be certified, making the lawsuit potentially more difficult to pursue.  On January 6, 2011, an appellate court overturned that decision and certified the class, noting “denial of class certification gives rise to the possibility of multiple lawsuits involving duplicative claims of those asserted in this action and inconsistent rulings by various courts in the state.”  The ruling paves the way for the case to proceed to trial, as an appeal to the Court of Appeals is viewed as highly unlikely.

12:00 AM
Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Gideon Alert: Iowa S.Ct. finds rigid flat-fee contracts “substantially undermine” right to counsel

The Iowa Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in Simmons v. State Public Defender, No. 07-0870 (Iowa Nov. 24, 2010), finding that a rigid fee cap of $1,500 per appellate case would “substantially undermine the right of indigents to effective assistance of counsel.”  The Court explained that “inadequate compensation will restrict the pool of attorneys willing to represent indigent defendants” and that “the low level of compensation threatens the quality of indigent representation because of the perverse economic incentives introduced into the criminal justice system. … Low compensation pits a lawyer’s economic interest … against the interest of the client.”  Reasoning that the fee caps at issue in the case would have a “profound chilling effect” on the right to counsel and that the legislature intended to uphold the right to counsel, the Court held that Iowa rules imposing a hard-fee cap are unenforceable.

3:30 PM
Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gideon Alert: The “Indiana Model” creates unequal representation

Indiana has a strong home-rule tradition, favoring local autonomy over state control in many governmental facets. Indigent defense in the state is organized at the county level, and historically representation has been provided most typically by part-time public defenders operating under contract.

2:46 PM
Monday, October 18, 2010

Gideon Alert: MA Prosecutors Argue for Parity with Public Defense Providers

On October 13, 2010, nine of the eleven Massachusetts elected District Attorneys held a press conference in the state legislature to alert policy-makers to what they call an imbalance in criminal justice funding.  Arguing that the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) receives $

11:00 PM
Thursday, October 14, 2010

Gideon Alert: Saddling poor defendants with high court-imposed debt is bad public policy

On October 14th, 2010, the USA Today editorialized that the practice of imposing high court-ordered debts on the backs of clients as part of sentencing in criminal cases –- including forcing indigent defendants to pay for the cost of their appointed attorneys -– actually heightens the chance that people may re-offend and is unsound public policy.

4:11 PM
Thursday, September 30, 2010

Gideon Alert: US Senate Judiciary introduces legislation to improve and enforce Sixth Amendment right to counsel services

On September 27, 2010, the United States Senate, Committee on the Judiciary, Chairman Patrick Leahy introduced the “Justice For All Reauthorization Act of 2010” (JFAA 2010).  The Act includes provisions to assist states in improving Sixth Amendment right to counsel services, while simultaneously empowering the Department of Justice (DOJ) to sue those that do not.  In a press release, Senator Leahy said “[t]oday, we rededicate ourselves to building a criminal justice system in which the innocent remain free, the guilty are punished, and all sides have the tools, resources, and knowledge they need to advance the cause of justice.”

9:21 AM
Friday, September 17, 2010

Gideon Alert: DOJ data confirms existence of right to counsel workload crisis in the United States

On September 16, 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) released additional results from its 2007 public defender survey in two separate reports.  These reports on state public defender programs and county-based public defender programs detail the existence of serious deficiencies in the way states and counties deliver Sixth Amendment right to counsel services, most notably in the excessive caseloads public defenders are forced to carry.

9:56 AM
Friday, September 10, 2010

Gideon Alert: Tennessee Supreme Court issues advisory opinion on sitting prosecutor appointed to public defender commission

The State of Tennessee provides the majority of the funding for the right to counsel and trial-level services are provided through a statewide system of elected public defenders from the state’s 31 judicial districts.  District 20 (Davidson County - Nashville) and District 30 (Shelby County - Memphis) are served by non-elected local public defender offices, which existed prior to creation of the state system in 1989. [Correction: The original posting of this article contained an error.  Davidson County's public defender is an elected official.]

9:20 AM
Monday, August 2, 2010

Gideon Alert: Legislative sponsor of the Montana Public Defender Act of 2005 calls for the system to be dismantled

On June 9, 2005, Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer signed into law the Public Defender Act of 2005.  The Act created an independent 11-member public defender commission that is statutorily bound to issue standards and to hire and oversee a Chief State Public Defender and other centralized staff.  At the same time, the Act provides the flexibility required to address the diverse needs of a geographically large yet sparsely populated state.  Deputy Chief Defenders operating in eleven distinct geographic regions monitor and enforce commission standards – some by relying on public defender offices, others by employing contract defenders.  Indigent defense providers in the regions are supported by the Chief State Defender’s centralized staff, including: a Director of Training; the State Appellate Office; a State Serious Crimes Defender Unit; and, Director of Management Information Services.

1:45 PM
Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Gideon Alert: Striking a balance in protecting defendant-lawyer communications in jails

A recent story reported by The Ledger out of Polk County (Bartow), Florida tells of a conflict between the Sheriff’s Department and the Public Defender Office.  The Sherif

4:25 AM
Monday, June 28, 2010

Gideon Alert: Ohio Public Defender Commission to force change in Hamilton County (Cincinnati)

On June 27th, 2010 the Cincinnati Enquirer reported about how the Ohio Public Defender Commission (OPDC) is forcing change to public defense services in Hamilton County, by withholding state reimbursements and potentially suing the county ov

10:33 AM
Friday, June 25, 2010

Gideon Alert: Best practices on display in Oregon and Santa Clara County (San Jose), California

As jurisdictions across the country struggle to overcome right to counsel systemic deficiencies, it is valuable to remember that some jurisdictions do serve as best practice models.  For example, the Oregon Public Defender Services Commission has total authority to establish and maintain a public defense system that ensures quality, effectiveness, efficiency and accountabil

11:24 AM
Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Gideon Alert: Nevada reform stalls over definition of a "case"

How many cases are too many?  The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that the Nevada Supreme Court Indigent Defense Commission can’t get to the question because they are hung up on the definition of a “case.” 

8:21 AM
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Gideon Alert: Congressional summit offers federal recommendations to stem indigent defense crisis

Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), chair of the United States House Judiciary Committee, and Rep.

9:50 PM
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Gideon Alert: Legislative changes yet to take root in Louisiana's 15th judicial district (Lafayette)

On June 17th, 2010, the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) released Effective Assistance of Counsel: Implementing the Louisiana Public Defender Act of 2007, a report concluding that the

1:26 PM
Thursday, June 10, 2010

Gideon Alert: Oklahoma legislature addresses case overload by restricting access to justice

On April 15, 2010, GIDEON ALERTS notified readership of the serious case overload situation at the Oklahoma Indigent Defense System (OIDS).  OIDS’ 61 staff attorneys each handle between 400-500 cases, even though they predominantly provide services in death cases, serious fe

10:11 AM
Friday, May 28, 2010

Gideon Alert: "Kids for Cash" Commission Report concludes Pennsylvania in the business of dispensing "Justice by Geography"

On May 27, 2010, the Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission on Juvenile Justice delivered a scathing indictment of the Luzerne County “kids for cash” scandal, in which judges allegedly made millions of dollars in kick-backs for placing juvenile offenders into

11:04 AM
Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gideon Alert: Flagrant constitutional violations just a by-product of Utah’s Justice Courts’ revenue machine

The Salt Lake City Weekly has published an excellent spotlight report on the problems of Utah’s Justice Courts (Nickled and Dimed by Utah Justice Courts, 5/27/2010).  There are 134 Justice Courts throughout Utah’s 29 counties, e

8:39 AM
Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Gideon Alert: Michigan Civil Rights Commission resolution acknowledges failed defender systems as a civil rights issue

On May 24, 2010, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission adopted a resolution stating unequivocally that the failing county indigent defense systems constitute a civil rights issue.  Interim Department of Civil Rights Director Dan Krichbaum (appointed aft

11:48 AM
Thursday, May 20, 2010

Gideon Alert: Military build-up expected to make Guam public defender crisis worse

Public defender services in Guam were formally created in 1968.  In 1975, legislation created the Public Defender Services Corporation (PDSC), an island-wide organization overseen by a board of trustees to assist low-income people with civil, criminal, and juvenile proceedings.  Through rule-making authority, the Board of PDSC has a power most public defenders in the c

7:55 AM
Monday, May 17, 2010

Gideon Alert: New York Times highlights public defense crisis and the underfunding of legal services

A New York Times editorial on May 17, 2010 identifies the nexus between our nation’s deficient right to counsel systems and the failure of policymakers to address the underlying societal issues that increase the need for indigent defense services today.&nbsp

11:43 AM
Friday, May 14, 2010

Gideon Alert: Poor performance costs Washington defender $2.9 million; inexperience, high caseloads, and "trying one's best" are no excuse

On May 14, 2010, the Wenatchee World reported that a Chelan County public defender has agreed to pay a $2.9 million dollar settlement to a former client for admittedly providing ineffective assistance of counsel that led to the client’s wrongful

10:05 AM
Friday, May 14, 2010

Gideon Alert: Poor performance costs Washington defender $2.9 million; inexperience, high caseloads, and "trying one's best" are no excuse

On May 14, 2010, the Wenatchee World reported that a Chelan County public defender has agreed to pay a $2.9 million dollar settlement to a former client for admittedly providing ineffective assistance of counsel that led to the client’s wrongful imprisonment

10:05 AM
Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gideon Alert: Texas' Dallas County struggles with undue political & judicial interference

An article in the Dallas Morning News  on May 12, 2010 discusses an impasse in the Dallas courts between the executive and judicial branches of government over how to make the courts more efficient.  At iss

1:08 PM
Thursday, May 6, 2010

Gideon Alert: New York's highest court allows NYCLU lawsuit to proceed

On May 6, 2010, New York’s highest court ruled that the class action lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) on behalf of indigent persons in five counties is an allegation “not for ineffective assistance under Strickl

10:24 AM
Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Gideon Alert: Maryland public defender independence increased

On May 4, 2010, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed into law Senate Bill 97 increasing independence for the state public defender agency.  The legislation expands the Public Defender Board from three members all appointed by the Governor to a thirteen-member board selected by divers

4:00 PM
Friday, April 30, 2010

Gideon Alert: Michigan Supreme Court unanimously allows ACLU lawsuit to proceed

In a major victory for the right of poor criminal defendants to seek justice from our courts, today the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously issued an order allowing the American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit (

12:09 PM
Saturday, April 24, 2010

Gideon Alert: California counties exhibit wide disparity of services

Justice should not be dependent on which side of a county line one’s crime is alleged to be committed.

11:06 AM
Thursday, April 22, 2010

Georgia Update

On April 7, GIDEON ALERTS relayed an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report that the governor and key legislators were seriously considering shifting the state’s financial burden of funding the right to counsel back to Georgia&rsq

12:00 PM
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Gideon Alert: understanding Alabama's "perfect storm"

When elected judges have the authority to give out big payments for assigned cases without being fiscally responsible for doing so, a state like Alabama creates the “perfect storm” of characteristics that virtually guarantees ineffective assistance of counsel to the poor.  A great newspaper series from Mobile’s Lagniappe is starting to highlight these issues and

1:32 PM