County Defender System

Review of the operations and policies of the Department of Assigned Counsel (DAC) in Pierce County, Washington, with a particular focus on indigency determinations, attorney appointments, investigations, training, and resources. Study team reports that many county officials lack a clear understanding of the organizational structure and function of the DAC. Empirical findings were made difficult by the absence of reliable statistical data, but the authors note that the majority of cases in Pierce County are handled by attorneys on the assigned counsel panel and that zealous pre-trial advocacy seems to be lacking in the county. Recommendations include, but are not limited to: determining procedures for establishing indigency, hiring more investigators and support staff, developing attorney training programs, and upgrading resources and facilities.

Author/Organization: National Legal Aid & Defender Association
Publication Date: 1981

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Gideon Alert: Alabama creates statewide indigent defense system

BY David Carroll on Thursday, June 9, 2011 at 9:00 AM

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.

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

BY Jon Mosher on Thursday, May 12, 2011 at 12:01 PM

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.

NY Chief Judge Sets Goal to Provide Counsel at Arraignments

BY David Carroll on Tuesday, May 3, 2011 at 12:29 PM

“While there are pending legal and constitutional challenges” to systemic indigent defense deficiencies in New York that will play themselves out, there remains “an independent and compelling moral obligation for every participant in the criminal justice system to work together” to end the practice of arraigning and jailing indigent defendants who are not represented by counsel, announced New York’s Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman on May 2, 2011 during his annual Law Day address.  Calling the practice “a fundamental failure that can no longer be tolerated in a modern, principled society governed by the rule of law,” he vowed that by next year’s Law Day “the norm in our great State will be that defendants are represented by counsel at arraignment, and that anything less than that will be aberrational in nature.”

California county notes the value of a strong defense

BY Jon Mosher on Tuesday, April 26, 2011 at 10:54 AM

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.”

Gideon Alert: Philadelphia death penalty assigned counsel rates challenged

BY David Carroll on Friday, April 8, 2011 at 3:28 PM

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.

Gideon Alert: Budget deal threatens to gut New York indigent defense efforts before they begin

BY David Carroll on Wednesday, March 30, 2011 at 12:31 PM

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.)

On March 8, NLADA research director David Carroll conducted a national webinar on behalf of, the DOJ/BJA’s National Training and Technical Assistance Center (NTTAC). While state policymakers work to construct indigent defense systems that meet basic foundational national standards, prudent use of taxpayer dollars requires that they concurrently decrease the need for public defense attorneys by removing non-violent, low-level felonies and misdemeanors from the formal justice system through diversion and/or reclassification of crimes to infractions where it is safe, reasonable and prudent to do so. The presentation explores the state of the right to counsel in America, offers insight into current national standards, and presents practical solutions to public defense problems that threaten our courts' abilities to produce verdicts that are fair, correct, swift and final. The hour-long webinar includes a 40-min presentation followed by 20 mins of questions and answers.

Author/Organization: David Carroll, NLADA
Publication Date: 03/08/2011

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.


Nevada Supreme Court orders uniform public defense case counting definitions

BY David Carroll on Friday, February 18, 2011 at 12:20 PM

On February 15, 2011, the Nevada Supreme Court adopted a court order requiring all Nevada counties to use a uniform definition of a “case” in reporting right to counsel caseload data.  The definition adopted in Nevada for the time being counts as a single case “a single defendant in a single charging document.”  The Order expressly notes that this measure “will under report caseload at times when one defendant is charged with separate crimes from separate incidents that may necessitate indigent defense counsel to treat the appointment as multiple cases.”   The court agreed with the definition supported by the Conference of State Court Administrators and the National Center for State Courts, first established in their joint 1989 publication State Court Model Statistical Dictionary. That definition instructs administrators to “[c]ount each defendant and all charges involved in a single incident as a single case.”  The Court adopted the modified definition of a case because of the current state of case-tracking technology available throughout the state.  If Nevada develops the case-tracking capacity to “accurately count cases in line with the national model,” the Court advises that they intend to revisit the newly adopted definition.

Tom Green County, Texas considers regional defender model

BY Jon Mosher on Friday, February 4, 2011 at 12:20 PM

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.