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Posts tagged: public defense

Lawmakers look to changes in Idaho’s system for providing public defenders

With Idaho counties calling on the state to set up a statewide public defense system, a legislative committee was told this week that a new commission will provide recommendations before lawmakers convene in January. “We just want to make sure that what we deliver is thoughtful that we've really looked at any potential consequences and that you have the best information to make your decision with,” Third District Judge Molly Huskey, who sits on the Public Defense Commission, told an interim legislative committee on Thursday, the AP reports. “We won't have an answer for you in October or even possibly in November, but we will have some recommendations.”

In 2010, a report from the National Legal Aid and Defender Association found that Idaho isn't satisfying its Sixth Amendment obligations to defendants, writes AP reporter Rebecca Boone. Among the issues, public defenders' caseloads were too high, some defendants didn't meet their lawyers until they were in the courtroom, and defendants sometimes felt pressured to accept a plea agreement rather than go to trial. Click below for Boone's full report.

Lawmakers mull new Public Defense Commission

A legislative interim committee has agreed on the concept of state Public Defense Commission to help oversee improvements in the state’s spotty and problem-plagued system of criminal defense for indigent defendants. But the senators and representatives also agreed that the new commission should make recommendations to the Legislature on new requirements for qualifications, experience, and performance standards for public defenders, rather than promulgate rules on those items itself. “I don’t know that we can do it all at once,” said Rep. Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, co-chair of the interim committee. “It may be a two- or three-year process.”

The panel also is discussing how best to get full-time public defenders in Idaho’s counties, rather than lawyers who also have other cases – which may be higher-paying and draw more of their attention. The problem comes for Idaho’s remote and sparsely populated counties, where, even if they shared a full-time public defender with other counties, travel time could stretch into many hours. Lawmakers on the panel agreed to get more input from counties before their next meeting in January.

The committee’s work opened in August with a stern warning from Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick that the state’s criminal defense system for indigent defendants is “broken,” plagued by soaring caseloads, short funding, and lack of qualified, experienced and suitably trained attorneys. Idaho law and the state Constitution require public defenders; Burdick warned that the state is falling short of its own constitutional standard.

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, the interim committee’s Senate co-chairman, said, “We’ve made significant progress.” He said the panel will finalize its commission legislation at its Jan. 8 meeting, and decide whether to propose it during this year’s legislative session. The panel also voted today to recommend the appointment of an additional legislative study group to examine whether cities should help fund the public defender system, in addition to counties and the state. Mortimer said funding issues will be the main focus of the Jan. 8 meeting, including “long-range planning for stable and ongoing funding.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

Idaho’s flawed public defender system could put state at risk for lawsuits

Idaho is at risk of lawsuits over its flawed public defender system, according to a 2010 report, but after several years of study, the state still hasn't agreed on how to fix the system, the AP reports. Now, an interim committee of lawmakers is being tasked with finding a solution. At the heart of the dispute is whether counties should be free to give public defender contracts to private attorneys, with standards, or whether counties should be required to hire a full-time public defender, a big and costly change for the state, but one that would address a fundamental difficulty in the system when lawyers juggle low-paid public defense contracts with other, higher-paying cases.

“Both of those proposals were brought up before the commission,” said State Appellate Public Defender Sara Thomas, who is a commission member. “Ultimately the decision was made that they would go to the governor on equal footing, and now the interim committee will get a chance to review them.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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