Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Indigent Defense Crisis - White Collar Matters Could Be Implicated

According to a federal defender, "[f]ederal public defenders are facing unprecedented and devastating funding cuts in FY14, and the present plan would reduce budgets by 26% and staff by 33% nationally -- making these offices by far the hardest "hit" federal agency in the country."  A leading bar organization has issued a statement of concern.  The NACDL here notes that last week, "American's federal indigent defense system, known as the Office of Defender Services (ODS) was demoted."  In the year that marks the 50th Anniversary of the Gideon decision, this is sad. What is equally sad to see is that these moves are not cost effective, and could end up costing the taxpayers more.  As noted by a federal defender:

"Defender offices would lose some branch offices, have to decline the most complex and resource-intensive cases, cease managing the CJA (contract counsel) panel, and shift so many cases to the CJA lawyers that it would double or treble the CJA costs; note, however, that there has been no increase (rather, a decrease) in the CJA budget, and generally private CJA representation costs a lot more than representation by salaried staff in defender offices. Sequestration cuts to defender offices, ironically then, will substantially increase costs of federal indigent defense, while the Federal Defender offices (the "Flagship" of the U.S. Courts) are crippled."

White collar cases tend to be complex and require significant defense time and cost.  With the increased emphasis on cases, such as mortgage fraud, more federal public defenders have become involved in this representation. Without adequate defense counsel the status of prosecuting these cases could be at risk.  Equally problematic will be whether those charged with crimes will receive adequate representation. Let's hope the legislature wakes us and does something quickly to correct this situation.



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