I was glad to see the public-defense crisis got some ink from the Star Tribune over the weekend. In an unusual move (for us anyway) demonstrating the importance of the subject, Minnesota Lawyer dedicated almost its entire front page to the topic last week. (Click here and here for the two page-one stories Minnesota Lawyer ran.) The Pioneer Press has also had excellent pieces on the public-defense crisis written by Ruben Rosario ("State public defender cuts imperil us all") and Ramsey County District Court Judge Edward Cleary ("Public-defender cuts undermine justice system, and we'll all pay.")
We hear the alarm bells raised quite a bit on various topics these days -- so much so that we can grow tone death to the constant blare of the sirens. However, I cannot emphasize enough that this is not a "run-of-the-mill" problem for the justice system. Not only do these cuts endanger access to justice for some of the state's poorest citizens, but they also clog the wheels of justice for everyone else. And this happens at a time when the courts are dealing with a budget cut of their own, creating a "perfect storm" scenario.
In a decade of covering the state's justice's system, I can recall no other fiscal measure as irresponsible and wrongheaded as the public-defense budget cuts. What a terrible 150th birthday gift to the citizens of Minnesota.