The judge respondents rated the quality of legal representation in
all criminal defense cases (retained and indigent defense)
We are asking a few attorneys to take on the bulk of indigent
defense at minimal compensation; some attorneys can adequately handle
the caseloads, some have problems keeping up with caseload.
Too many cases for too few people. Not enough funding to cover
increases in crime severity or sanctions that prevent plea bargaining.
Lack of client control; unwillingness to initiate plea discussions
(defense counsel wait for DA to make offer); unwillingness of some
to follow discovery rules; not understanding evidentiary rules;
making frivolous sentencing arguments or release arguments.
Cases get tried that should have pled.
Too much plea bargaining with superficial understanding of facts.
The public defender's office is excellent, but new attorneys on
the list add energy and aren't stale. There needs to be a balance
between experience and energy versus experience and passivity. *
* * The level of experience in the public defender's office and
the willingness to mentor new lawyers is terrific.
No effective means of excluding the few incompetents.
Too much for lawyers to do spreads them far too thinly and mistakes,
sometimes serious, happen. The lawyers need less clients/cases so
as to perform adequately within time lines. They are handling more
and more work/clients/cases with less and less resources. Inadequate
client contact pre-trial affects seriously (and negatively) the
perception of fairness by the client. Generally, the retained lawyer
has more time/resources to apply to the representation and often
can be 'more motivated' to attend to details important to the client.
Cases get tried that should have pled. Counsel is sometimes too
slow - over tries case. Counsel is harried with too big a caseload
- results in anger and unprofessional conduct.
Lack of adequate preparation and time spent with client. This is
especially true on probation violation matters. Newer attorneys
sometimes lack adequate training in the fundamentals of trial practice
and evidence. Overall, they all seem overworked.
At times, many times retained attorneys wander into the
criminal world and don't do half the job court-appointed attorneys
Some retained attorneys are excellent - few if any appointed lawyers
are. This is to be expected, is realistic and appropriate. Appointed
clients should expect reasonable representation. Monied clients
should expect excellent representation.
Court-appointed defense attorneys seem more motivated by moving
a lot of cases (being paid per case and not per hour) than by providing
quality representation. I think the flat fee-per case approach is
a bad way to deliver indigent defense services. It places the attorney
in a conflict of interest with the client/defendant: the attorney,
in order to promote his economic well-being, must move the cases
quickly. The more time he spends on a particular case, the less
money he makes, in effect. The only way to balance these concerns
with the State's concern in keeping control over indigent defense
budgets is to have a system of public defender offices where the
attorneys are salaried.
My only concern is adequate funding - this year there were more
cases than had been contracted to handle.
Good smart lawyers who try hard. They carry a heavy load and burnout
can be a problem. They are ethical and truly care for their clients.
Defense bar does not put up enough of a fight - there is an absence,
in most cases, of a truly vigorous representation. You get
what you pay for. Preparation, vigor and overall competence is greater
in retained cases, with occasional exceptions.
Lack of information about sentencing options suitable for defendants.
There is generally a good professional working relationship between
the defense bar and the prosecution. Without this, we would be in
serious trouble. The other point that comes to mind is that both
the public defender's office and the district attorney's office
are staffed with competent, experienced people.
Two chief areas of concern: (1) costs for experts and investigators,
(2) lawyers taking too many cases on a small dollar margin in order
to get contracts ....
Increasing caseload with limited defense panel. Measure 11 cases
will require more attorney and court time. Death penalty cases are
consuming the qualified defense attorneys. I believe for the dollars
spent the indigent defendant is often better represented than the
retained client at a much higher fee.
The public defenders are honest, ethical, and attempt to do a good
job. They lack overall experience due to their youth. I actually
believe in many cases [defendants] do better with the public defender.
That is why we lobbied [the State Court Administrator] to switch
our county from a consortium of private attorneys to a public defender.
Insufficient time explaining process to clients.