One issue facing many counties across the nation is the lack of resources being committed to defender services in our system of justice. This issue was highlighted in a news analysis article by The New York Times looking at two innovative approaches to raising the quality of public defender representation.
The programs, in Washington State and Comal County, Texas both apply different tactics in order to improve the quality of court-appointed legal representation available to defendants. Comal County, Texas launched an experimental, voucher-type program that allows defendants to directly hire an attorney of their choice, using government money. In Washington State, Federal Judge Robert S. Lasnik, ruling in a case brought by defendants represented by the ACLU, imposed a federal monitor on public defender programs operating in two communities after determining that the current system was inadequate. The Judge, in a challenge brought by the ACLU of Washington, found that the existing system resulted in nothing more than a“meet and plead” process, denying poor criminal defendants with viable defense and legal representation.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which represented the plaintiffs, said its lawyers believed this was the first time in the nation’s history that a federal judge had appointed a supervisor to oversee a public defense service.