Tuesday, March 16, 2010

You say you want a PD's office...

So you want a public defender's office in Harris County, do you? Who's going to fund it? Who's going to decide on the level of funding? Who will decide how many cases a public defender can handle?

The state of New York has a public defender system that entails local Legal Aid Societies, public defender's offices and private attorneys who take criminal appointments. That system is under fire and facing a class action lawsuit alleging that indigent defendants are not be given adequate, competent legal representation.

The New York Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear arguments on whether class-action status should have been granted in the suit. Ironically, the state of New York is now defending a system that the state's own Commission on the Future of Indigent Defense Services found did not provide adequate representation in 2006.

The ultimate question with public defender's offices is whom do they serve? Their clients are indigent criminal defendants, but the very entity seeking to take away their freedom is funding their operation. Is the job of the public defender to insure that indigent defendants receive adequate and competent representation - or to manage a budget?

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