The Criminal Justice System consists of the Courts (trial judges), the State Attorneys (public prosecutors) and the Public Defenders (defense of indigents) each of which is expected to work with the others while maintaining an attitude of mutual respect, honesty and trust in the integrity, ethics and good will of the other participants. But the Public Defender program is viewed as the step-child of the Criminal Justice System, even in those jurisdictions in which the Public Defender is an elected official of the State government. Nobody wants them, and yet in the Constitutional sense, everybody needs them. As a result, niggling is the norm among individuals in the general population, unless it is the complainer’s ox that is being gored. At that point, the Public Defender is seen as vital with high praise and gratitude expressed when they are appointed to handle his case. And so life goes on in the Public Defenders office with a watchful eye cast upon other complainers who do not yet see the need to have such agency funded at public expense.Considering the above, niggling coming from within the State Criminal Justice System, the general population, and even at times directly from within the State Legislature itself, negatively impacts the Public Defenders in the following ways:
Niggling unjustly casts them in a negative light undermining the legislative support required to obtain their fair share of the available funds.
Niggling inappropriately encourages a lack of respect for the agency’s attorneys and in that way impairs the attorney client relationship which is so vital to the proper disposition of criminal cases.
Niggling is constantly coming from within the incarcerated population in the jails and prisons with the complaint that they do not see their attorney often enough. The high volume of cases the Public Defenders must handle with a bare bones operating budget and an inadequate legal staff, makes it impossible for them to visit their clients as often as well paid private defense lawyers visit theirs.
Every attorney employed by a Public Defender agency, must hold a valid license to practice law and be in good standing with their Bar Association, in order to represent such clients. Nevertheless, niggling clients are constantly asking the court to dismiss the Public Defender and appoint a “real” lawyer to defend them.
The widespread niggling from within the jails and prisons is responsible for the client’s misperception that agency attorneys are too busy to be able to spend the time required to prepare a case for trial.
Since a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, the criminal cases can only move forward at a pace sustainable by the slowest agency. Historically that has been the Public Defenders Office since it is the agency that has been the most over-utilized and under-funded through the years.Engaging in inter-agency backbiting and arguing over niggling details is self-defeating. The approach of each agency fending for itself is outdated. A new unified approach is required, the main ingredient of which could be the joint preparation and submission of a single, unified, balanced and thoughtful budget for the entire Criminal Justice System adequately funding the operating needs of each of the three participating agencies, to be recommended for passage in the legislature by the entire Criminal Justice System. A paraphrase of one of our country’s forefathers proclaiming that “if we do not all hang together we will most assuredly hang separately.” comes to mind as being relevant to our discussion.The most important ingredient required to overcome niggling is mutual trust. A difficult commodity to come by when one works within the Public Defenders office where day in and day out clients are venting their frustrations over the limitations forced upon them by inadequate funding. The Public Defenders are commended for a job being well-done under extremely difficult funding and working conditions. So ignore the complainers. Charge full speed ahead, your cause is just..© 2013 Douglas M.Midgley, J.D. All Rights Reserved Worldwide