Public Defenders

PD explains why he fired himself

Faced with budget cuts that came with sequestration, a chief federal defender in Ohio decided to fire himself rather than any of the lawyers who worked for him.

Steven Nolder, who headed the Federal Public Defender’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio, explained his struggle with the need for cuts at the Alliance for Justice’s Justice Watch blog.

Recent hires were top candidates, many from first-tier law schools. Many were from out of state, but they were willing to travel to Ohio in a tight job market.

“Conventional wisdom is ‘last in, first out,’ ” Nolder writes. “I looked at the last five lawyers I hired and there was a common thread running through them: They all came from outside the state of Ohio, were not licensed to practice law in Ohio (you don’t have to be if you practice solely in federal court), and many either came here with families or started them once they established roots in Ohio. Furthermore, I was troubled by the fact that the decision on my doorstep was not driven by either subpar job performance or declining caseload; instead, it was the result of a political game that two omnipotent political parties were playing, leaving the federal defender program in the crosshairs.”

Nolder announced his resignation in March and asked that his successor come from within his office to help shrink the payroll. Though an acting public defender has been appointed from another district, the appointment has the effect of cutting payroll and the number of employees in the Southern District office. Nolder is now in private practice at Scott & Nolder in Columbus.

“I’m disappointed by the apathy and indifference with which the plight of the federal defender program has been met with over the last five months,” Nolder writes. He notes that the Justice Department avoided furloughs and is scheduled to get an additional $79 million added to its fiscal 2014 appropriation. “In contrast, DOJ’s counterparts, the federal defenders, whose budget makes up .05 percent of the entire nation’s budget, face the prospect of an additional 23 percent cut for the same budget cycle,” he says.

“If the intention is to dismantle the ‘gold standard’ of our nation’s public defense systems, our lawmakers are succeeding.”

Prior coverage: “ABA letter warns of ‘marked imbalance’ caused by sequestration cuts to public defender offices”

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