Much, Much More Missouri: the battle regarding Missouri’s strained indigent defense system continues in counties and courtrooms throughout the state. Last week the PSLawNet blog provided a summary of news coverage. In the past week:
- The St. Joseph News-Press covered some prosecutors’ criticisms of what they see as cynical attempt by public defenders to exaggerate the scale of the current situation to secure more funding – “just nonsense” is how one county prosecutor referred to the idea of a systemic crisis. The Missouri Bar Association president suggested, though, that there is “no doubt” that a crisis is looming.
- KTVI, the FOX affiliate in St. Louis, featured a piece about the statewide sparring between defenders and prosecutors and noted that defenders in six Missouri counties are refusing to take new cases (and St. Louis County could soon join them).
- On August 10th, a Christian County judge reaffirmed an earlier decision he had made appointing a public defender to represent an indigent defendant in a burglary case, in spite of the public defender’s earlier notification that it could not accept any more cases. The judge noted that he was “not ruling on whether the public defender system is overworked or not but whether he could allow a defendant who qualifies for a public defender to go without.” (Columbia Daily Tribune – 8/12/10). This decision was derided by the Missouri State Public Defender’s office. (KRCG Website – 8.11.10). Additional coverage of the decision is available from KSPR.
And in other news:
- 8.11.10 – The Columbian (Washington State) – in Clark County, the chief prosecutor and members of the criminal defense bar are sparring over the prosecutor’s request for additional government funding, which he says is necessary because lawyers representing indigent clients are increasingly calling expert witnesses. The prosecutor referred to the county’s assigned counsel system (there is no public defender’s office) as a “big sucking machine.” Defense counsel responded that amidst advances in forensic science, they owe it to their indigent and fee-paying clients to provide the best defense possible, and that it is not the province of a prosecutor to determine how defense constructs its case.
- 8.11.10 – Portland Press Herald [Editorial and Reply Concerning Maine’s New Indigent Defense System] – [Ed. note: on 8/3, the Press Herald’s editorial board authored a piece arguing that, while Maine’s newly implemented system for assigning counsel to indigent defendants has received “mixed reviews,” it has only been operational for a month and should be given more time for kinks to be worked out. The older system relied on judges to assign counsel on a case by case basis. The new system relies on the newly created, and independent, Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services to coordinate counsel assignments. In response to that editorial, a defense attorney who represents indigent clients volleyed back, noting that while the new assigned-counsel system went into effect recently, the law creating the Commission is more than a year old. By now, he argues, the concededly “underfunded and understaffed” Commission should have had more infrastructure in place to make the system work smoothly.
- 8.9.10 – Fort Worth Business Press – “Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, an LSC grantee and the nation’s 5th largest legal aid organization, “is enhancing its presence with newly renovated headquarters in downtown Fort Worth, a just-launced capital campaign, new outreach programs, a revamped website and technology, and a rebranding that emphasizes its mission of ‘equal justice under law’.” One of LANWT’s goals is to raise its profile as a provider of free services to low-income clients who most need them. LANWT has 15 branch offices and serves 114 counties in Texas.
- 8.9.10 – National Law Journal [Opinion Piece authored by Esther Lardent of the Pro Bono Institute] – the recent news coverage of the immigration debate has also shed light on flaws in the current operation of the immigration system. “Fortunately, we are seeing law firms undertaking immigration pro bono work in record numbers.” These contributions are necessary because the system is laden down under the weight of swollen dockets, and at the same time resources to preserve and defend immigrants’ rights have become more scarce, with too few advocates to represent immigrants. “Not only are there too few advocates; our immigration system is broken. A recent report done on a pro bono basis by Arnold & Porter for the American Bar Association, Reforming the Immigration System: Proposals to Promote Independence, Fairness, Efficiency, and Professionalism in the Adjudication of Removal Cases (excutive summary here), presents 60 comprehensive recommendations for reform to the system.” But until policy-level reform arrives, pro bono advocates must continue working to preserve immigrants’ rights and promote systemic change. Link to piece.
- 8.8.10 – Issaquah Press (Washington State) – a King County (which includes Seattle) board is contributing $12,000 to fund an Americorps Fellowship at the Northwest Justice Project. “The fellow will be a full-time attorney assigned to work with Northwest Justice Project staffers and coordinate with other organizations to provide services to at-risk and homeless veterans.” The impetus for King County’s action was a vote in 2005 that created a levy “…to help local veterans military personnel, and their families.”
- 8.6.10 – American Bar Association – a program at the ABA’s annual meeting in early August, “Law Firm Legal Aid: Where Are We One Year Later,” examined the phenomenon of deferred law firm associates taking temporary volunteer placements with public interest organizations. Presenters explained that this unexpected turn of events has benefited the associates, who have gained hands-on practice experience, and their public interest host organizations which have used associates to bolster client service capacity.