The WSJ Law Blog posts about the impending cuts to public defense, because there was all that fat in the budget to pay for PDs sitting in their oak paneled offices eating bon bons in the spare time. The combination of the populist ideology of sharing the pain and the perpetual issue with the public’s prioritization of indigent defense falling slightly below limos for lesser public officials makes this a gimme.
Public defenders maintain that they should be insulated from budget cuts for two reasons, the first being that they were sorely underfunded before the recession came along. Secondly, they point to the fact that states have a duty, enshrined in Gideon v. Wainwright, to provide indigent criminal defendants with the right to counsel.
[Head of the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy, Edward] Monahan told the WSJ that public defenders offices in the state already have average caseloads in excess of 450 per lawyer and that, with budget cuts, lawyers will have to represent more than 500 clients at any given time.
To the initiated, the arguments against cuts to public defense are obvious, strong and incontrovertible. If it was severely underfunded before, what’s left to cut? The answer is in the numbers, which Monahan says will be “more than 500 clients at any given time.”
Forget about the public defenders laid off in a climate of unemployment and few options. There is no massive group of well-heeled criminal defendants with cash to burn unable to find counsel because lawyers are flush with retained cases.
The counter is that funding to prosecutors is being cut as well, though the attempt at comparison would cause giggles but for the fact that there is nothing funny about any of this. Prosecutors always have the option of not bringing more charges then they can prosecute, or clearing their desks when the caseload interfered with binge drinking. Public defenders have to fit their binge drinking in whenever they can.
Of course, there’s nothing new about PDs suffering for their calling. Public pretenders, tossed aside at the first opportunity for “real lawyers” without regard to anything other than the fact that defendants would rather be represented by a paid muskrat. No respect. This is reflected well in a comment to the WSJ post.