Contract Defender

Gideon Alert: Prosecutorial interference in Utah

BY David Carroll on Monday, November 21, 2011 at 3:58 PM

On November 15, 2011, the Emery County Progress reported that the county attorney -- the same office that prosecutes crimes in the county -- not only plays a major role in selecting opposing counsel, but also controls the budget of the local indigent defense system.  Though this column has reported on undue prosecutorial interference in Utah before (click here to read about Utah district attorneys involved in the selection and oversight of public defenders), this is the first documented instance in which there is a direct financial conflict of interest between the two adversarial components of the court system.  

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

BY David Carroll on Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 4:11 PM

“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.

 The Court is considering an amendment to Tenn. Sup. Ct. R. 13 to provide for an alternative method of compensating attorneys who provide legal services to indigent persons pursuant to the rule. In summary, proposed new Section 7 of the rule would authorize the Administrative Director of the Courts to enter into contracts with attorneys, law firms or associations of attorneys to provide legal services to indigent persons for a fixed fee.

Author/Organization: Tennessee Supreme Court
Publication Date: 07/2011

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The Constitution Project's response to Tennessee Court's solicitation for public comment on its proposed rule change allowing for flat-fee contracting in conflict cases.

Author/Organization: The Constitution Project
Publication Date: 08/19/2011

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David Carroll's response to Tennessee Court's solicitation for public comment on its proposed rule change allowing for flat-fee contracting in conflict cases.

Author/Organization: David Carroll, NLADA
Publication Date: 08/17/2011

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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.”

Cochise County, AZ released for public comment a proposed contract for tertiary defender services. This letter provides David Carroll's comments on the proposal. While the proposal went far toward meeting many of the ABA Ten Principles, it failed with respect to independence (Principle 1) and accountability (Principle 10). 

Author/Organization: David Carroll, NLADA
Publication Date: 08/16/2011

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Proposed contract for tertiary conflict and overflow cases would pay private attorneys a single flat fee of $150 per misdemeanor case and $900 per felony case.

Author/Organization: Cochise County, Arizona
Publication Date: 2011

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Ruling in Zarabia v. Bradshaw that “[i]t is impermissible for the presiding judge, in wholesale fashion, to transfer the public's constitutional obligation to pay the financial cost of indigent defense to the county's private lawyers,”  the Arizona Supreme Court reaffirmed that the principles expounded in State v. Joe U. Smith were the appropriate standard for gauging the effectiveness of a right to counsel system. 

Author/Organization: Arizona Supreme Court
Publication Date: 1996

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