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Re: “Prosecutor pay raise clears final hurdle from independent citizens' commission

They need to raise pay for public defenders and hire a lot more of them. Public defender caseloads tend to be huge. Most are handling way more cases than any lawyer should ever attempt to handle. Arkansas public defenders on average are handling way more cases than the American Bar Association says a lawyer can handle competently, and some have several times as many cases as any one lawyer should even attempt to handle. It's a tough situation. I have been there. There aren't enough hours in the day to do what you really should do on each case. The Public Defender Commission is well aware of the problem but they can't do anything about it because they're basically the unwanted stepchild of the judicial system. They cannot get the budget to staff their offices like they should staff them.

Something else that would help is if judges would just stop appointing the public defender in darned near every case. Most judges make little or no inquiry into the indigency of defendants. They just want to move the cases along so they appoint public defenders in almost every case. I work in a neighboring state too though and in the counties where I work the judges will not appoint a public defender if the defendant can make bond. You would be amazed at how these people come up with money to pay attorneys. If they can't do it, eventually counsel will be appointed, but the majority end up hiring counsel. This helps the public defender offices and it helps private attorneys make a living. It doesn't hurt the accused because they all end up with attorneys and if they do have public defenders at least their public defenders are far more likely to have manageable caseloads.

When judges come up for re-election, look for two things. Do they send people to prison for stupid reasons like being fifty bucks behind on fine payments? Do they over-utilize the public defender office? Those who do those things are doing taxpayers and every one else wrong. Prison is not an unlimited resource, and neither are public defender services. So what if a case drags on a little bit longer while people scrape up the money to hire an attorney? If 85 or 90% or more of the defendants in your county are being represented by the public defender office, something is wrong and the judges are most likely to blame. That is the case in most Arkansas counties now. Public defenders are now free in judges' eyes. Counties no longer pay their salaries. They are no longer private attorneys getting appointed and paid on a case by case basis as was the case in the past. There is no penalty for appointing the public defender too often or for wasting prison beds. The state pays for it. It doesn't come out of the county budget. There is no penalty for wasting taxpayer money and overtaxing the public defender system to the point that people aren't getting adequate representation, unless voters decide to penalize these judges.

Posted by BigJohn on 05/14/2015 at 10:20 AM


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