Charged with the 2010 murder of a former co-worker, Dr. Vanjinder Toor, who he blames for ending his career, one thing is clear: Dr. Lishan Wang doesn’t care much for the Connecticut Public Defender’s office. And apparently, they don’t like him too much either. At least, not enough to allow any of their funds to be used to pay for experts in his pro se defense.
From the Branford Eagle:
The case’s judge and prosecutor are preparing to ask the Connecticut Supreme Court for advice as they try to move forward a confusing case involving an accused murderer who is representing himself—and running up a lot of bills.
The question before the justices: Is an indigent jailed defendant who rejects the state’s public defender as counsel entitled to funding for expert witnesses to testify at his trial? If so, who pays—the public defender or the judiciary?
Presumably, the judge has determined that his requests for expert witnesses are justified as at least minimally reasonable and appropriate for his defense, so that can’t be the problem. (The article offers no insight on who, what or how much Wang “needs” to pursue his defense.) And there is no issue of either his right or competency to proceed pro se, even if his disdain for the public defenders may reflect a misguided perspective. But having turned down a PD, and chosen to fly solo, Wang has apparently stymied the system by flying between the most important things to anyone in government service: the budget.
Who pays? Or if there is no statutory source of funds for an indigent pro se defendant to obtain necessary expert witnesses, does anyone pay? More importantly, and missing from the article, is the deeper question. If nobody in Connecticut wants to put up the funding to provide Wang with the experts needed to get a fair trial, then will they be unable to convict him?
In the days of tight budgets, it’s completely understandable that nobody wants to put up money for Lishan Wang. Having told the PD to get lost, they aren’t happy to see their very limited funds squandered by a guy who thinks they suck so much that he would rather risk being his own lawyer than let them near him. More seriously, the public defender’s office could be tapped for witness expenses over which they have no control (and likely no way to limit), which may be of dubious necessity in the sense that Wang is going for the million to one shot, or seeking to spend sums far beyond what the PD deems reasonably necessary.
So between Wang’s view of what he needs, and the judge’s view that it’s not unreasonable, the PD’s budget gets tapped for the cost. However, the PD has no shortage of defendants to handle, and to expect it to pay regardless of cost and without regard to the allocation of scarce resources that might be used to defend 100 other defendant, all equally entitled to a fair trial, the unwillingness to let Wang and the court tap their budget is completely understandable.
On the other hand, the judge apparently isn’t inclined to let Wang tap the judiciary budget either. No doubt they’re working on a shoe string as well, and if it’s like most courts around here, scrimping and saving wherever possible to keep the lights on. And then Wang comes in demanding big money for experts, and there is no money unaccounted for in the judiciary budget to cover the nut.
Rather than deal with this dilemma, Superior Court Judge Patrick J. Clifford has chosen to kick it upstairs and make it the state Supreme Court’s problem. Indeed, he may have no choice, given the situation, and the apparent absence of any legislated fund to cover the cost of such expenses when they aren’t otherwise associated with a normal funding process.
What’s quite remarkable is that there isn’t a fund available to cover the gaps in the criminal justice system like this. Not that it happens all the time, but it’s not exactly a zebra either. Defendants run out of funds in midstream and find themselves unable to cover unanticipated expenses, and their private counsel seek a bit of the state’s largesse to cover the gap and allow for a fair trial to proceed. It happens. Is there nothing in Connecticut to accommodate this?
Lest anyone beat up on Public Pretenders for their failure to put Wang’s cause ahead of their budgetary woes, their responsibility is to use their limited resources for all indigent defendants who seek their services, not for one who doesn’t. The myopic view is that the “cause” of Lishan Wang’s rights should trump the nuts and bolts of public defense reality. The reality is that they have far greater responsibilities than to let Wang have a blank check with their budget.
And yet, there is no question but that Wang is entitled to his Sixth Amendment right to present a defense, including whatever experts are needed to make that happen within the constraints of reasonableness. Ultimately, it seems that if the State of Connecticut doesn’t want to find a budget line somewhere to pay for it, they can’t try him. As long as a judge determines, as has apparently happened here, that his need is legitimate, then the state must afford an indigent defendant the wherewithal to defend himself.
Where that money comes from isn’t the defendant’s problem. If the state doesn’t want to pay the freight of Wang’s constitutional rights, then it’s up the creek. And yet, somehow that doesn’t seem to be likely to be the ultimate result, raising the ancillary question: how will the high court justify screwing the PD by forcing it to use its budget to pay for the state’s burden. Because the public defenders are always the easiest to burn in the process.