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Eye On Boise

Frustrated commission says Idaho’s public defense reforms ineffective, lack teeth

Members of Idaho's Public Defense Commission say that without more authority, there's not much reason to keep working on statewide recommendations, the AP reports. Lawmakers created the commission in 2014, asking members to come up with quality standards to improve Idaho's problematic public defense system.

Judge Molly Huskey told a group of lawmakers Friday that much of that work is done, but it's not worth much if it's not enforced. She asked the lawmakers to decide if they would give the commission or another entity the authority to enforce minimum standards for public defenders.

"We're putting on the training, we're promulgating rules, and we've made the recommendations for contracts. But our work is only advisory," Huskey said. "...They can use all that paper to start a bonfire for all the value our opinions have.”

The state has known for years that the county-run public defense system was struggling, and a 2010 report found that many indigent defendants weren't getting a fair run in the courts because their public defenders were overworked, undertrained and underpaid. The state now faces a lawsuit in federal court, charging that it’s failed to fix an unconstitutional system. AP reporter Rebecca Boone has a full report here.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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