PDs and Greedy Cowboys

Chronically understaffed, and reeling from caseloads several times larger than those managed by private lawyers, public defenders here and in many parts of the country have started trying to force legislators to respond. In the last two years, defender agencies in Missouri and Miami have won, in state Supreme Courts, the right to refuse new cases they cannot responsibly handle.

But many other legal experts say the daily triage required of public lawyers … forces them to violate their ethical obligations to clients.

“Limited resources move to higher-level cases like murder and rape, and thousands of other defendants are simply being thrown under the bus, with the illusion of a lawyer,” said Stephen F. Hanlon, a private lawyer who is chairman of a national bar association advisory group on indigent defense and who provides legal representation to the Missouri State Public Defender System.

The new report, described by legal experts as the most detailed and credible of its kind, has provided numbers to back up the claim that defenders here face Sisyphean workloads.

(New York Times) I’ve never worked as a public defender, but this sounds plausible to me. Prosecutors snipe and critique the report, but it seems to me (in my limited one-state anecdotal observation) that Prosecutors have Public Defenders hugely outnumbered and out-resourced. “The illusion of a lawyer” for criminal defendants too often is the bitter result.

It’s a failure of our secondary school “civics” classes when people respond, in essence, “why should we spend a lot of money so these guilty bums can ‘lawyer up’?”

On a related note, our local Prosecutor has filed a $3.4 million civil forfeiture action (I have a pre-existing bias against civil forfeiture and I’m not going to make an exception for my own county Prosecutor). This money goes into “the criminal justice system,” as the euphemism has it.

I’ll bet you not a dime goes to Public Defenders. I’d say half of it should go to Defenders; then maybe Prosecutors wouldn’t be greedy cowboys.

UPDATE: If Paul Ogden is right, these civil forfeiture actions are an even bigger scam even more worthy of my pre-existing bias than I knew:

Nonetheless, under Indiana law, law enforcement is only entitled to keep civil forfeiture proceeds to cover the cost of the action.  The balance is to go to the Common School Fund.  My research updated a couple years ago, showed that officials in Tippecanoe, Marion, Hendricks, Madison and Morgan counties, all places where these raids took place, are simply pocketing 100% of the money in contravention of the law.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.