Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says he’s set aside $5 million in his proposed state budget for next year to address public defense reform. After a short pause, lawmakers greeted the news with applause. It followed a strong statement from Otter about the need for the move. “Let me say that Idaho historically has been a leader in recognizing and ensuring the right to legal counsel,” he said. “It was part of our territorial law and was put in the Idaho Constitution at statehood.”
A lawsuit now pending in state court in Idaho charges that Idaho’s current public defender system is unconstitutional, its public defenders are overworked and undertrained, and the system provides a disincentive for adequate defense, Otter told lawmakers. “It’s not a cheap or easy fix. But I stand with the Idaho Criminal Justice Commission and the State Public Defense Commission in calling on the Legislature to address the issue this year,” the governor declared.