Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Is a Public Defender's Office the answer?

For those of ya'll clamoring for a public defender's office here in Harris County, take a look at the first blog entry from two former Dallas County PD's, Mike Howard and David Woodruff, who resigned and started up their own firm:

On my first day at the Dallas County Public Defender’s Office I knew I had found my place. I am one of those idealists who went to law school looking to help people. And not just anybody, but the people who most people don’t care about helping. The poor...the uneducated...the outsiders. And you can’t find a group more outside mainstream American society than people charged with breaking the law. I jumped right into my job and loved it. I blogged about it for a while until that became hazardous to my job. But all in all things were great. I had the job of a lifetime -where I’d retire someday.

A while back the county commissioners’ court started making life difficult for the PDs for seemingly no reason. We had always been required to keep monthly stats on our docket (number of cases appointed, pending cases, cases disposed by trial, plea, revocation, et cetera) and that was okay. But then the commissioners wanted weekly stats. Why? Who knows. I mean all you have to do is divide our monthly
stats by four and you have a pretty good idea what we did on a weekly basis. And because they wanted them in different formats, it meant keeping two sets of stats. And then they wanted us to use an absolutely worthless case management program. So with stats and the new program, every time I did anything, it took about three times as long as it should. When you add that on top of the legendary heavy caseload a PD juggles, it’s a recipe for disaster.

And that brings us to the caseload. Until a few months ago, there was no written rule about how many cases we had to carry. But supposedly some people weren’t carrying their weight. But instead of addressing those specific problems (if there were problem people not carrying their weight the commissioners would’ve known just who they were based on the various stats they kept), they upped the number of cases we all had to take. First it was 30 new cases a month for felony attorneys. Then 35. Then 40. 40! 40 felonies a month. And many of us handled little or no “easy” cases like probation violations. Try handling 40 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree felonies a month. All my friends outside the PDs office recognized it for what it was: madness. So all this built up until David and I couldn’t take it. We resigned because we knew we couldn’t give all our clients the representation they deserved with the way the office was headed. And we weren’t alone. In the past month or so five attorneys have resigned. One was even board certified in criminal law. I love the PDs office with all my heart. I respect the attorneys up there and hope they’re able to right the ship. It’s a tragedy that is absolutely pointless if you ask me.
A PD friend reminded me about the paysheets. How could I forget the paysheets?! For the uninitiated (lucky you) in all this post Brad Lollar mess, the commissioners court accused the PDs office of being inefficient. Everyone with any knowledge of the system knew this was an absurd accusation, but the commissioners were serious. To prove their efficiency, the PDs had to turn in fake paysheets like the private attorneys who receive court appointments. The private attorneys turn in a paysheet at the disposition of any court appointed case in order to be paid for their work. The PDs, who are not paid for each case, of course never did this. So now, on top of the double stats and the worthless case management program, PDs are turning in a third form of stats. The whole thing seemed to be an exercise in futility to me: the commissioners could’ve easily determined “efficiency” based on the stats PDs were already turning in. So this morning I hear from a little birdie that the fake paysheets have been suspended. If you ask me it’s past time to do this. I’m happy for my former co-workers since this will save them some precious time otherwise wasted on paperwork.

Here are some other interesting tidbits regarding the Dallas County PD's Office:

1 comment:

Mark Bennett said...

If you let the County Commissioners run a PD's office, you're going to get a lousy PD's office.