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:
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.”
In his February 15, 2011 State of the Judicary speech, New York's Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman quoted a Commission finding that "New York's indigent defense system is severely dysfunctional and structurally incapable of providing poor defendants with effective legal representation." "Fortunately," he continued, "there is finally cause for optimism thanks to the Legislature's historic creation last June of an Indigent Legal Services Board and a State Office of Indigent Legal Services, the ILS Office." This week, a budget deal was struck slashing in half the budget for that new office, as reported in a March 28, 2011 press release from the Justice Fund and on March 29 by the North Country Gazette. The budget compromise was reached after a Senate proposal to eliminate the newly formed office altogether. (The Senate proposal was an earlier iteration -- S2807-B -- of the bill that is now S2807-C.)
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.”
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.
On February 16, 2011, newly elected New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez removed the state’s Chief Public Defender Hugh Dangler from his post, as reported in the Santa Fe Reporter. New Mexico has a statewide, state-funded indigent defense system that provides services through a combination of staffed public defender offices and contract attorneys. 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. The dismissal in the middle of a legislative session without a replacement, however, “brings questions for the department's ability to advocate for itself.”
As noted in our Gideon Alert on January 26, the National Association of Counties recommended the federal government fund pilot public defender programs to serve multi-county jurisdictions in rural areas. The San Angelo Standard-Times reports that Tom Green County, Texas is considering such a regional model using grant funds from the state’s Task Force on Indigent Defense. NLADA applauds the county’s leadership for considering creative solutions to their local right to counsel dilemma.
No one public defense delivery model is inherently better than another. In fact, almost every jurisdiction, whether organized by state or county, uses a mixture of delivery systems to provide all of the representation that is required. There are three basic forms of delivering indigent defense representation:
In 2008, the Board of Commissioners of Cook County was threatening to (and ultimately did) fire the chief Public Defender for the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender, which provides indigent defense services in Chicago and Cook County, Illinois. Because it was perceived that the Public Defender was threatened with firing due to his efforts to comply with national standards for indigent defense systems and services, this Resolution was issued.
Items contained in the NLADA Library do not and are not meant to constitute advice of any kind. Content in the NLADA Library is contributed by users. If you believe this material infringes your or any other person’s copyright or if you feel that the material is inappropriate, please report this to NLADA Staff by clicking below.
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.