A federal judge has recommended denial of a motion by Yellowstone County to dismiss it from a lawsuit filed by a former Billings man who spent 15 years in prison for a rape that DNA evidence later showed he did not commit. ⇒
“Eyewitness identification testimony requires close scrutiny and should not be accepted uncritically.” ⇒
As a regular reader pointed out, the U.S. House has passed a bill to create a Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) to help public defenders and prosecutors pay down their student loan bills. As the TaxProf Blog notes, the bill would:
- Establish a program of student loan repayment for borrowers who agree to remain employed, for at least three years, as State or local criminal prosecutors or as State, local or Federal public defenders in criminal cases.
- Allow eligible attorneys to receive student loan debt repayments of up to $10,000 per year, with a maximum aggregate over time of $60,000
The House bill is H.R. 916 (PDF), and you can track it on GovTrack. It sounds excellent, but now the Senate needs to pass something like this to take it the next step toward reality. The Senate version is S. 442, which appears to be waiting for debate. Contact your senator and tell him or her how important this bill could be to improving our criminal justice system. If you’re a Montana resident, here’s the info you need:
- Baucus, Max- (D – MT)
511 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510
- Tester, Jon- (D – MT)
204 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510
Need something to tell your senator? Take inspiration from Richard Goemann, director of defender legal services for the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, who said:
“Taxpayers have an interest in a fair and reliable criminal justice system,” Goemann said. “Without experienced, talented public defenders and prosecutors, the criminal justice system does not work.”
Or listen to Martin S. Pinales, President of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, who said:
“Because of high student debt and low pay, public defenders’ offices have a difficult time attracting and keeping qualified attorneys. . . . The constant influx of new, inexperienced attorneys undermines the reliability, fairness, and efficiency of the criminal justice system. The John R. Justice Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act would slow down the revolving door and improve the quality of justice for all Americans.”
Or, from the other side, we have Mathias H. Heck, Jr., President of the National District Attorneys Association, who said:
“The ‘John R. Justice Prosecutors and Public Defenders Incentive Act’ is crucial to public safety. . . . This important legislation will ensure that prosecutor offices across this country are able to recruit the best and brightest attorneys and are able to retain those qualified and experienced prosecutors in their offices.”
If there’s anything on which criminal lawyers can agree, it’s that most all of us could have better lives and less stress if we didn’t have to worry so much about student loan bills. Please, write your senator and help get this legislation passed!
For more on this legislation, see:
- NPR’s coverage, including vignettes of public defenders and prosecutors trying to make it w/out such assistance.
- The comments to the idea of a federal LRAP on the Wall Street Journal‘s Law Blog — an interesting mix of support for the idea and condemnation for the idea of giving privileged lawyers any more breaks.
- The ABA Op-Ed in support of the legislation.
This is completely hearsay, but I was told last week that at a recent negotiation between the union representing public defenders in Montana and representatives from the state, the state put forward the proposition that, for purposes of pay, public defenders are not “attorneys” — we are public defenders. This is because “attorneys” employed by the state — e.g., as attorneys general, aka, prosecutors — get a certain pay range and the state doesn’t really want to have to pay its public defenders that much. Therefore, we are not attorneys, we are something else — public defenders, of course.
Like I said, this was just a story someone who was at the meeting told me, so I don’t know how serious anyone was about this or whether it might have been a joke or just an idea floated and quickly withdrawn. Regardless, it shows that at least some people in state government either have no respect for public defenders or simply don’t understand the fundamentals of the criminal justice system.
Can anyone who was at that meeting shed any more light on this rumor? [tags]union, contract, pay, public pretender[/tags]
“Justice Clarence Thomas sat through 68 hours of oral arguments in the Supreme Court’s current term without uttering a word.” The last time Thomas asked a question in court “was Feb. 22, 2006, in a death penalty case out of South Carolina.” ⇒
Posting bonds for profit is a job right out of a crime novel or gritty police procedural, and like any of the hard-boiled types in those stories… ⇒
The verdict marked the first successful prosecution at trial in Yellowstone County of a law created by the 2005 Legislature aimed at punishing drunken drivers who kill. ⇒
Following up on the Montana state budget, it appears the legislature finally agreed upon a budget. Best of all, although I can’t find any confirmation online, my understanding is that most, if not all, of the $4 million previously cut from the budget for the Office of State Public Defender, was restored in the final spending bills. I’ll update this once I know more…
UPDATE: Silly me. As a kind reader pointed out, the Montana legislature puts its work online, so on page A17 of this bill (PDF) you’ll see that the budget for the Office of State Public Defender ended up with the $19 million it requested. Interestingly, that includes $30k for “Mediation for Criminal Proceedings” as part of HB 629. I’ll have to look into that…
Golf and sex are about the only things you can enjoy without being =20
=97 Jimmy Demaret
The latest round of Montana state budget fights appears to have produced more cuts for the State Office of Public Defender:
The Corrections Department is losing, among other things, $2.1 million from a $10 million plan for 120 methamphetamine-treatment beds. And, $4 million is being trimmed from the new statewide Public Defender’s Office. That office, created in 2006, will get $1 million in one-time money to offset the cuts.
It’s a great idea to cut the budget for criminal defenders at the same time you’re cutting treatment options for their clients. The legislature had better increase the budget for prison beds, because they’re going to need more of those as a result of these cuts.
The infuriating thing about this is that the budget cuts are being made at a time when the state has a billion dollar surplus. But hey, we need tax breaks for property owners! You know, the people who already own property are definitely the neediest people in the state. For sure. Brilliant.
Thanks to Public Defender Stuff for pointing to this bit of news. As always, PD Stuff is the place to go to stay on top of the public defender world nationwide. [tags]budgets, money[/tags]