Gideon Alerts

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.

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.”

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

BY David Carroll on Monday, August 8, 2011 at 12:44 PM

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.   

Gideon Alert: NACDL report exposes Florida’s “no counsel” courts

BY David Carroll on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 at 3:16 PM

“Supreme Court Justices rarely consider appeals of misdemeanor convictions.  Nearly a half-million misdemeanor cases are filed in Florida’s county courts every year, and the vast majority of those cases are resolved by a plea of guilty, often in a matter of minutes.  Advice of rights by the courts and the assistance of lawyers for the defendants, whether they can afford them or not, are exceptions, not the rule.  It is as if our criminal and traffic courts operate as 'constitution-free zones,' outside the law.” -- Gerald Kogan, former Florida Chief Justice

Gideon Alert: Connecticut backslides on right to counsel

BY David Carroll on Wednesday, July 27, 2011 at 9:46 AM
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.

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

BY David Carroll on Wednesday, June 22, 2011 at 1:19 PM

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."

Gideon Alert: Mississippi takes first step toward unified statewide system

BY David Carroll on Friday, June 10, 2011 at 2:55 PM

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.

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.

Gideon Alert: North Carolina attorneys leave appointed counsel panels in droves

BY David Carroll on Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 11:05 AM

On May 4, 2011, the House side of North Carolina’s General Assembly passed a budget bill (HB 200) that cuts annual funding for the statewide Indigent Defense Services (IDS) by roughly $11 million, or more than 9% of their previous year’s budget.  The threatened cut is especially drastic because, based on projected need for the remainder of this fiscal year, IDS expects to be nearly $12.8 million short.  In the past, the legislature would make a one-time appropriation to IDS to make up for any end-of-the-year shortfall, but the current legislative leadership has made it clear that such practices will not continue. This means the legislature is expecting IDS to pay for this year’s deficit out of next year’s reduced budget.  IDS would have to operate for all of the 2011-2012 fiscal year with only 80% of the budget it had in 2010-2011, and this at a time when IDS caseloads are increasing.  (Click here for more information on IDS and how North Carolina prosecutors pushed for these cuts).  Most locals expect the budget bill to pass the Senate, with sufficient votes in the Assembly to override any gubernatorial veto.  

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.”