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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Miami judge rules poor defense caseload crushing

Circuit Judge Stanford Blake found that Public Defender Bennett Brummer's office has absorbed 12.6 percent in budget cuts over the last two years, while its criminal caseload has rocketed by 29 percent since 2004.

"The evidence shows that the number of active cases is so high that the assistant public defenders are, at best, providing minimal competent representation to the accused," Blake wrote.

"While the court is concerned that there not be chaos in the criminal justice system, the court must also serve as the protector of due process and meaningful representation of the accused," the judge added.

Beginning Sept. 15, all third-degree felony cases involving people who can't afford their own lawyers - that's about 2,000 cases a month in Miami-Dade - will be handled by a new regional office created by the Legislature in 2007.

Brummer said he felt "vindicated" by the judge's ruling and predicted private attorneys would have to be hired to represent most of the third-degree felony defendants because the regional office isn't set up for such a workload.

"The state will pay about three times as much as they would if they had properly funded the public defender's office in the first place," said Brummer, who is retiring in January after 32 years. "If they don't do that, they are going to run into bigger and bigger problems." [Mark Godsey]

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