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Scales of Justice
Many sequester cuts are a lose-lose situation, bringing both cuts to needed services and to the paychecks of the people who deliver them. Some cuts, though, are worse. Cuts to federal public defender's offices are in the "worse" category, as Sam Stein and Ryan J. Reilly show. These cuts are not only cutting paychecks through furlough or cutting jobs outright, but the service they cut is that of giving accused criminals a fair trial with a competent defense. And, with top federal public defenders retiring to save the jobs of lower-paid staff below them, the cuts are draining experience and expertise from the entire system.

Defendants are not receiving the representation they need. For instance, Helen Ligett, a federal public defender in Texas, not only had to travel 164 miles each way to attend a client's arraignment and meeting with the probation office, but she paid the travel expenses herself. What's more, her office no longer has an investigator, and as Ligett says, "I still haven't figured out how a lawyer can represent a criminal defendant without investigating the case." Impacts like that are widespread throughout the public defense system, are only getting worse, and are actually costing more money:

The public defender system hasn't just been stripped bare by sequestration, its bones have been chiseled away as well. There has been a 9 percent reduction in the roughly $1 billion budget for federal public defender's offices, while federal defenders in more than 20 states are planning to close offices. Careers have been ended and cases have been delayed. All of it has occurred in the name of deficit reduction—and yet, for all the belt-tightening being demanded of the nation's public defenders, money is not actually being saved.

When federal public defenders aren’t able to take a case because of a conflict, or because their workload is too great, the job falls to private court-appointed attorneys known as Criminal Justice Act panel attorneys. Those lawyers are paid from the same pool of money as federal public defenders, but they cost much more and, according to some studies, are less effective.

To keep the budget from completely exploding, the Judicial Conference, a group of senior circuit judges that helps administer guidelines for the courts, could—indeed, may have to—reduce the rates paid to private attorneys, but that could mean fewer CJA lawyers would be willing to take up such cases. That, in turn, would result in the accused spending more time in prison waiting for trials—only further driving up costs.

Such is the special genius of sequestration and widespread budget cuts more generally. There's less justice in our justice system, lawyers and investigators who have spent their careers protecting the rights of defendants who can't afford to pay for a defense lose their jobs or suffer massive furloughs, and the whole thing costs more in the end.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Mon Jul 22, 2013 at 10:45 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  And people say we have a do-nothing congress. (4+ / 0-)

    Look at all they have accomplished here.

    Of course, this ridiculous situation probably does not upset Republicans.  They achieve several of their goals:
    Locking up more "criminals", making life more difficult for those freeloading 47% who can't afford their own legal defense, supporting the prison industry, and locking up more dangerous black men and recreational drug users.

  •  The non-monetary effects that idiot GOP (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Villanova Rhodes

    never wrap their feeble minds around -  

    with top federal public defenders retiring to save the jobs of lower-paid staff below them, the cuts are draining experience and expertise from the entire system.

    My Karma just ran over your Dogma

    by FoundingFatherDAR on Mon Jul 22, 2013 at 11:51:22 AM PDT

  •  FWIW, the Judicial Conference isn't "senior (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    never forget

    circuit judges" and hasn't been for many decades, although that was in its original name when the term had a different meaning. All the judges on it are active judges, and almost half are active district (i.e., trial) judges, so they're up close and personal with the effects of sequestration on the defenders and everyone else in the system.

    As the chairman of the Conference's Executive Committee described it:

    Funds have been reduced for probation and pretrial staffing, which means less deterrence, detection, and supervision of released felons from prison. Related funding for drug testing, drug treatment and mental health treatment were cut by 20 percent. Money for security systems and equipment has been cut 25 percent and court security officer hours have been reduced. Cuts in court staffing and hours threaten to impact public access and slow case processing. National information technology upgrades to improve infrastructure and financial management have been delayed. Sequestration is impacting federal court operations and programs throughout the country, including a $51 million shortfall in the FY 2013 funds in the Defender Services account.
    In 2012, the annual cost of placing an offender in a Bureau of Prisons institution or federal residential reentry center was roughly eight times the cost of placing the same offender under post-conviction supervision by a federal probation officer. Pretrial detention for a defendant was nearly 10 times more expensive than the cost of supervision of a defendant by a pretrial services officer in the federal system.
    But prisons are in the budget of the executive branch, while probation & pretrial officers are in the budget of the judicial branch. An interesting conflict for judges.
  •  I've seen similar stuff on the government side. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    never forget, Villanova Rhodes

    I know DOJ has been advertising unpaid attorney jobs—that require 3 years of experience!  These are stressful, 50+ hour/week jobs that used to pay $75k/year.  And this isn't some crappy job—these are jobs that would get applications from grads from top schools.  Most law grads would kill for a job at DOJ or a USAO.  

  •  theres little (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    or no justice in our supposed justice system now remove anymore & we will become saudi arabia or worse.

  •  People getting lower quality legal representation (0+ / 0-)

    vs the federal government.

    Sounds like a feature not a bug.....

    The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function [Albert A. Bartlett]

    by fToRrEeEsSt on Mon Jul 22, 2013 at 04:55:56 PM PDT

  •  Criminal legal system...not a whole lot of justice (0+ / 0-)

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