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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Public defender caseload crunch nationwide

The public defender caseload in Minnesota has long been way too high. At last count, the defenders were handling caseloads of twice the ABA standards. In 2007, they requested a budget increase that would provide 161 new lawyers, and put their caseloads at one and one-half times ABA standards. They got funding for 34 lawyers--for which State Public Defender John Stuart is grateful.

The defenders have asked the private bar for help. For example, Third Judicial District Chief Public Defender Carol Weissenborn last spring suggested that private lawyers to take more criminal cases to help stem the tidal wave of criminal cases in the southeast corner of the state. In Ramsey County, a panel of lawyers takes appropriate cases for a moderate to low fee.

New information reinforces that this a national, not a state, problem. Last week the American Council of Chief Defenders released a resolution calling for immediate action to set appropriate caseload standards. It supports the National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards capping felonies at 150 a year, or juvenile cases at 200 per year.

In a not unrelated matter, this week the council passed a resolution supporting Ohio Public Defender Brian Jones, who was held in contempt for refusing to proceed to trial on two and one half hours notice. Judge John Plough held Jones in contempt, had him jailed, and later upheld his own ruling in a hearing.

More information on both resolutions is available here.

This is a crisis that all lawyers should have on their radar screens.

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