I was in the Circuit Court for Williamson County , Tennessee recently. The court announced that the public defenders had requested not to be appointed to any new cases for a short period of time. The judges agreed and started to appoint local attorneys to represent indigent defendants. The District attorney objected and requested to file an objection. The Tennessean reported on the story this week.
Caseloads for the public defender’s office is exploding across our country. Paying for indigent defense is not a popular subject for most of our citizens, but it is a constitutional requirement to provide effective representation. Can representation be effective when a criminal defense attorney does not have sufficient time to work on a case ? The complaint by the Williamson County, Tennessee Public Defenders is caseload volume.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers ran an article in The Champion several months. It urged it was time to update the American Bar Association’s ten principles of a public defense delivery system. One of the principles is declaring the unavailability of the public defender. One of the guidelines set forth is to advise the court when their workloads become excessive. The report does not require the public defender to file any motion with the court. I applaud the trial judges in Williamson County in issuing the memorandum regarding the excessive workload of public defenders.
In reviewing the ABA principles for public defense, there is no procedure for prosecution objections. Lawyers have an ethical duty to not take on more cases than they can provide competent legal services. It is even more critical when a person’s fate is going to prison. In some discussions, some people say the assistant district attorneys have a bigger caseload than the public defenders. Let’s take a look at that issue.
The district attorneys have a fleet of investigators called police officers or detectives. They have access to a crime laboratory with folks with specialized knowledge. Some Tennessee district attorney’s offices have dedication victim witness coordinators whose job it is to help with the witnesses in the case. Most public defenders or court appointed lawyers do not have access to those resources. true, a public defender or appointed counsel can file a motion for funds for an expert or investigator but the purse strings are held by the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts.
Who knows better about how many cases the Public Defenders can ethically accept….the public defenders and the Judges or the District Attorney? it is not popular to support funding for indigent defendants. it takes courage to make tough decisions. the trial judges in Williamson County took a stand for ethical , effective , and high quality representation for those that simply can’t afford a criminal defense lawyer.