January 13, 2009
No Vicarious Liability For Negligence Of Appointed Counsel
Is a state subject to liability if court-appointed criminal defense counsel provides negligent representation? No, according to a recent decision of the Arizona Supreme Court. The court held that the duty of the state begins and ends with the appointment of counsel. Counsel is an independent contractor that the state does not control or supervise. Thus, the state may not be held vicariously liable for counsel's negligence. (Mike Frisch)
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The holding of this case is actually quite narrow:
>>> We hold that when there is no claim that an indigent defendant’s appointed contract attorney did not have the required skill and experience to handle the case, the State cannot be held liable for the attorney’s subsequent negligence. <<<
So if the plaintiff had alleged that the attorney lacked the required skill and experience to handle the case, then there still might be liability.
I find this case raising more questions in my mind than it answers. For instance, how can the state’s responsibility really end with the hiring of the attorney when it also controls the purse strings and must, presumably, approve disbursements?
Posted by: FixedWing | Jan 14, 2009 5:23:06 AM