OSB Indigent Defense Task Force III Report

Introduction Summary Types of Providers Staffing Training Types of Cases Post Conviction Proceedings Conclusions, Goals and Recommendations


Geographic Analysis

Despite the nominal consolidation of the county courts into a statewide system in 1983, there continue to be significant differences among Oregon judicial districts' indigent defense operations. Uniform distinctions between urban and rural districts are less easy to draw than might be expected. Similarly, after compiling the survey results, the Task Force came to the conclusion that generalizations about geographic regions of the state are difficult to make. In large part, this is because judicial districts adjoining one another often have very different frameworks for providing indigent defense services. Also, since most procedures and policies are set at a local level by presiding judges and elected prosecutors, political boundaries create significant divisions even within seemingly contiguous geographic regions. Nonetheless, it is possible to see some broad patterns, particularly when urban counties, such as Multnomah, Washington, and Clackamas, are compared to more rural counties.

The single universal response in all locations, large and small, urban and rural, is that inadequate funding for indigent defense services is the cause of most existing problems. Every county, with the possible exceptions of Marion and Clackamas, reported that attorneys are forced to accept too many cases in order to meet office expenses, preventing adequate time and attention from being spent on each case. After caseload size, however, there was a split between larger and smaller counties as to what systemic problems were perceived to be the most serious. In the larger counties, lack of training and experience were most often the next highest rated problems while, in smaller counties, District Attorney charging practices and lack of extraordinary expenses authorizations for investigators and expert witnesses were rated the highest. It is noteworthy that District Attorney charging practices were not viewed as significant a factor in many of the larger counties.

Another difference between large and small counties is the extent to which judges involve themselves in monitoring the adequacy of representation by individual attorneys. In smaller counties, the judges have personal experience with all the lawyers handling indigent cases and often take an active role in responding to concerns about adequacy of representation, either as reported to the court or as actually observed by judges themselves. In some of these counties, the bench has developed informal procedures for responding to such concerns. Often, the procedure involves direct contact with the attorney in question. In smaller counties, judges continue to have direct control over the appointment process and are able to utilize that control to address concerns about the quality of representation. On occasion, the judiciary will limit an attorney from handling certain types of cases while the perceived problem is addressed. This 'hands on' approach is more difficult to employ in counties with many judges and defense attorneys, due to the dilution of personal contact between the attorneys and judges. Therefore, it appears that more monitoring occurs in the more sparsely populated counties.

The greatest concerns about adequate criminal defense representation are reported to arise with isolated sole practitioners or small offices where there is little or no direct peer interaction or oversight. Anecdotally, it appears that peer oversight plays a valuable role in monitoring the quality of representation. In more remote geographic areas, where there are fewer experienced attorneys with whom newer attorneys can consult, and firms providing indigent defense services often have small offices spread across vast multi-county judicial districts, the problem is exacerbated. In these situations, the combination of inadequate office funding and geographic remoteness limits training opportunities and makes peer review difficult to obtain. In turn, when problems with a particular provider do develop, replacements can be difficult to locate.


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