Burnt-Out Defenders Refuse New Cases

By Wesley Oliver,  Newser Staff

Posted Nov 8, 2008 2:56 PM CST

(Newser) – Public defenders are as overworked as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore, the New York Times reports. Arguing that their hectic schedules result in scant attention for clients, government-appointed lawyers around the country are refusing new cases and suing to limit their workload. “The quality of public defense around the country is absolutely deteriorating,” said one expert.

Client rosters are swelling, even as budget cuts and high turnover persist. All eyes now are on the Florida Supreme Court, where the state is appealing a decision allowing defenders to refuse some cases. “Right now a lot of public defenders are starting to stand up and say, ‘No more. We can’t ethically handle this many cases,’” said an advocate.

The most immediate impact of the rushed justice, experts say, is that innocent defendants, sitting in jail, may feel pressure to plead guilty or may be wrongfully convicted.
The most immediate impact of the rushed justice, experts say, is that innocent defendants, sitting in jail, may feel pressure to plead guilty or may be wrongfully convicted.   (AP Photo/Al Grillo)
In the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida, the defenders' office has had its budget cut by 12.6 percent in the last two years while the workload has climbed by 29 percent over the last four years.
In the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida, the defenders' office has had its budget cut by 12.6 percent in the last two years while the workload has climbed by 29 percent over the last four years.   (AP Photo/Pouya Dianat, Pool)
In Missouri, the system has not added staff members in 8 years, while the annual number of cases has grown by 12,000, one official said, adding, We%u2019re on the verge of collapse.
In Missouri, the system has not added staff members in 8 years, while the annual number of cases has grown by 12,000, one official said, adding, "We%u2019re on the verge of collapse."   (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Over the last 3 years, the average number of felony cases handled yearly by each lawyer has climbed to close to 500, from 367.
Over the last 3 years, the average number of felony cases handled yearly by each lawyer has climbed to close to 500, from 367.   (Shutter Stock)
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