Patt Morrison for May 12, 2010

Challenging the state of our public defenders: New York case could have implications for California

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The nation's poor may yet again get the short end of the stick when it comes to legal representation

The case, which could serve as a model for other states, calls into question New York’s competency in regard to providing legal representation for the poor. The judge raised questions about the fundamental fairness of the state’s system and cited evidence of an overwhelming number of wrongful convictions. The story is grim--one of defendants being shuffled through the system with inadequate representation, or none at all; lawyers who are poorly trained and/or trying to juggle an overwhelming case load (on average more than 700 per year); and defendants who are pressured to plead guilty. Issues with the public defender’s office are not unique to New York. Five other states have filed similar actions. Nearly 80 percent of individuals in the United States facing criminal charges are unable to pay for representation. Are we doing enough to ensure that the indigent are being afforded their constitutionally mandated right to counsel? And if not, does the death penalty raise the stakes?

Guests:

Christopher Dunn, our associate legal director, New York Civil Liberties Union. They filed the case.

Danny Greenberg, special counsel for Pro Bono Initiatives at Schulte Roth & Zabel. His corporate law firmed filed the suit with the New York Civil Liberties Union

Michael Judge, Public Defender for Los Angeles County


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