April 16, 2010
Public Defender May Be Ordered By Court To Represent Defendant
The Maryland Court of Appeals held that a trial court has the authority to appoint an attorney from the local public defender ("OPD") to represent a criminal defendant if the trial court concludes that OPD has erroneously denied representation. The trial court had found (contrary to the OPD) that the defendant was indigent and thus qualified for appointed counsel. The court reversed a finding of contempt against a local public defender, who had refused to appear in court on behalf of the defendant. The attorney was following the orders of his superiors not to appear.
Chief Judge Bell, joined by two other judges, dissented. While agreeing that the case was not moot and that the contempt should be reversed, the dissent would hold that the trial court lacked the authority to compel the OPD to provide representation.
The court decided another case today and reached the same result. The dissenting judges in the above case concurred in the conclusion that dismissal of the criminal case was improper but reasserted the view that the trial court lacked the authority to interfere with the public defender's decision not to take the case.(Mike Frisch)
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