The State Board of Public Defense voted on June 5 to cut the public defender work force by 15 percent across the state to meet its $3.8 million budget deficit. The cut means the loss of the equivalent of 53 full-time jobs, in addition to leaving 19 currently vacant jobs unfilled. About half the reduction (23 positions total) will come from actual layoffs; the rest will come from employees voluntarily taking unpaid leaves and from other measures.
The board’s action means the loss of 69 full time equivalent public defenders at the District Court level, out of a total of 441 positions, and three appellate lawyers.
The board also decided to cut public defender services by no longer representing parents in abuse and termination of parental rights cases, which it is not required to do by statute. In Hennepin County, parents will still be represented because the cost is paid by the county and not the state.
The board also decided that public defenders will no longer represent clients in problem-solving courts after their adjudications of guilt. Cuts in the appellate public defenders budget likely will mean a longer time before appeals are handled.
The service reductions were designed to preserve the public defenders’ resources for its priority cases, which are criminal defendants in custody, said State Public Defender John Stuart. “Some of the cuts are very hard to recommend because [the services] are very important to the courts and the people of Minnesota,” he said. However, the courts and the counties are also concerned that in-custody cases be handled expeditiously because jails are crowded, he said.
The staff reductions will mean that a public defender’s average caseload will be 812 cases, more than twice the American Bar Association recommended 400 cases.