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Public Defenders Feeling Budget Pinch, 450-Per-Lawyer Caseloads

Posted Apr 15, 2011 1:40 PM CDT
By Molly McDonough

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Already strapped for cash, states and local jurisdictions are turning to cuts in spending on public defenders, leading to higher caseloads and threats to defendants' constitutional right to counsel.

"The system is not allowing us to provide competent representation," Edward Monahan, the head of Kentucky's Department of Public Advocacy, told the Wall Street Journal.

His office lost about $500,000, or 1.5 percent, of its funding this year, and faces an additional 2.5 percent budget cut in the coming fiscal year. Monahan said public defenders already are managing caseloads of more than 450 per lawyer.

"With additional budget cuts to be imposed in [2012] and case assignments continuing to rise, average caseloads will likely exceed 500 new cases per year," he said.

In California's Sacramento County, 34 public defenders were laid off this fiscal year and another 31 are expected to face layoffs next year. That's a 50 percent staff reduction, according to the WSJ.

Related coverage:

Associated Press: "Mass. looks to cut public defender program costs"

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