Monday, January 17, 2011

Suing Judges & Such.

 Louisiana Public Defender Board v. 23 New Orleans Judges

The Louisiana Public Defender Board (LPDB), which administers the Public Defender fund for Louisiana's 42 judicial circuits, filed a lawsuit against twenty three New Orleans Judges last month. According to a press release from the Orleans Public Defenders office (OPD-also co-complainant), the judges being sued have not been following a law which mandates a $35 fee be paid to OPD. A preliminary hearing has now been set before Judge Todd Hernandez for January 26, 2011 at 9:30am. The suit is asking that the judges begin to follow the law in order to provide adequate funding to the stat public defenders, and is not seeking any back pay. You can read the writ for mandamus here. When the suit was first announced last month, OPD also announced a hiring freeze, and other cost cutting plans.

Public Defender Training on Medical Marijuana in California

As an aspiring public defender, I often (especially at interviews) ask about training opportunities. I think training is important, not just for new attorneys, but also continuing education on new legal issues as well as skill building. One example of new legal issues is the new and changing medical marijuana laws all over the country. So naturally I was happy and amused to hear about this great CLE opportunity in San Diego. The San Diego chapter of American for Safe Access conducted training for the San Diego County Public Defender's office educating them on how to best protect the rights of medical marijuana patients. You can read more about it here, and listen to the News Brief on YouTube.

Briefly Noted

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Anderson Cooper Discusses Prosecutorial Misconduct

Anderson Cooper (CNN) had a short segment on prosecutorial misconduct in which he referred to a recent study from Santa Clara University School of Law. In the brief introduction Cooper educates his audience about the high incidence of wrongful convictions and how many may be attributed to prosecutorial misconduct. He defines prosecutorial misconduct as instances when prosecutors presented false evidence or failed to turn over evidence "that could help clear a defendant". Anderson, cited the study, which found 707 cases where prosecutorial misconduct had occured, in all 707 of those cases the convictions were upheld, and only 1% of prosecutors found to have acted improperly were sanctioned (six). Cooper then discusses "harmless" error with his guests, who suggested an internal review process for prosecutors (adding that ineffective defenders should similarly be audited), because the 'honor system' just isn't working.

Obviously this is a topic that should receive more attention and public criticism. What I really didn't not like about this segment was towards the end where the conversation essentially comes to an agreement that there needs to be some method of accountability. It is not the suggestions that bothers me, but the fact that the information that Cooper himself shared was not incorporated into the reasoning. The truth is there is a means of keeping prosecutors accountable; appeals (which are all found to be "harmless error" when in reality that error is harming our whole system), and of course sanctioning offending parties, which as the study noted, is not a common practice. Instead Cooper fails to make these connections or make meaningful inquiry into the issue. I freely admit, the issue of remedying prosecutorial misconduct, is a controversial and complex one and certainly not one I am an expert in: And perhaps that is precisely the point-- when such issues are given attention in the media but then fail to create a meaningful discourse studies such as this one are not given proper weight, and perhaps the lip services may do a disservice by oversimplifying the issue. Interestingly enough, in the study's conclusion the authors said, "[We] have made specific recommendations for dealing with the problem. But the real remedies lie with the public, which must recognize the severity and importance of the problem and keep pressure on those responsible until reform occurs." I guess my question for Cooper is; Where is the righteous indignation, where is the outrage? Not to lend credence to the man, but can we get Glenn Beck in on this?

The study, Preventable Error: A Report on Prosecutorial Misconduct in California 1997-2009, was published by the Northern California Innocence Project at Santa Clara University School of Law and is available here. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

That's Why they Call them the Trenches.

Okay, So I am doing this blogging thing for real now. Here it goes, hopefully I'll stay consistent! Please feel free to email me with any comments, suggestions, corrections, questions, etc.

Public Defender Reform Battle in Montana
One of the Reasons I wanted to start this Blog was to track the struggles and reforms in the area of indigent defense. Over time I hope to provide more valuable commentary but as I am new to much of this information I can only really compile and report. While I will link to many stories affecting indigent defense, this story out of Montana is more aligned with my goals. 

The Independent Record reports that James Park Taylor has resigned from his position on the Montana Public Defender Commission. The commission was was created by the Public Defender Act in 2005 to guide and help the stat transition from a county-based system to a statewide system. In a letter to the Gov. Brian Schweitzer Taylor criticized the board for not being forward thinking, failing to provide "accurate and verifiable" data about the systems performance, failure to provide adequate compensation for contract attorneys, and failing to retain control over the system and serving only in an advisory capacity. The commission which met yesterday made no mention of Taylor or his replacement in their minutes. The article also discusses a study done by American University " that concluded much of what Taylor has claimed: that deficiencies within the institution’s management threatened its future, that money and other resources were short, and that employees were unhappy and apt to leave."

Will Illinois Abolish the Death Penalty?
Big news out of Illinois today! After a ten year moratorium on the death penalty, the Illinois State Senate approved Bill 3539 by a vote of 32-25 today. This Bill which would abolish the death penalty in Illinois was first introduced in February of last year by Sen. Kwame Raol and will now be sent to Gov. Pat Quinn, who will have sixty days to sign or veto the bill. But as noted by Progress Illinois Gov. Quinn signing the Bill should not be taken for granted. In fact the Chicago Tribune reports that during the Grosvenor's campaign Quinn responded to their questionaire on the topic in a less than assuring manner stating; "I support capital punishment when applied carefully and fairly... Although the moratorium gives the state of Illinois time to review all aspects of capital punishment, and makes it possible to put effective safeguards in place, the death penalty underscores our shared belief as a society that some crimes deserve the most severe punishment, when handed down fairly and justly. " The State Journal Register notes that some opponents of the bill have been calling for a referendum in order to give Illinois residents a say in this decision. So judging by the quote above that may be an option Gov. Quinn may consider. Illinois currently has fifteen men on death row which are listed in the SJR article linked above. You can read the Bill in it's entirety here.

Two Tales of "Switching Sides"
Texas - Palladium-Item, out of Richmond, Indiana published an article praising the work of Dallas County, Texas District Attorney Craig Watkins. Watkins established a "Conviction Integrity Unit" which examines inmate requests for DNA testing. The article discusses the case of a man named Dupree, who had been denied his requests for DNA testing by previous DA's, but was later exonerated under Watkins's program (along with 17 other men). It is great to hear stories about prosecutors using their discretion to seek out justice, even when a conviction has already been 'won.' I doubt it is a coincidence that Watkins is a former defense attorney.
California - I've heard of "switching sides" but this story out of California caught my attention. The Daily Triplicate, a newspaper out of Del Norte reports a story about a former DA Robert Drossel. Drossel, who in a campaign running for district attorney ran an add with the slogan, "prosecuting criminals, not defending them," is now seeking public office as a public defender. What makes this story interesting, is not only the switch, but the timing; according to another article, Drossel lost a race for Del Norte County District attorney just over two months ago! Talk about a quick turn around!

But Who will Account for the Finances?
And down in Duval County, Florida, the [elected] Public Defender Matt Shirk has "eliminated" the office Finance and Accounting Director last Friday claiming financial restraints. Not completely sure what the story there is, but it sounds a bit hairy. You can read more about it the Florida Times Union

Briefly Noted
Judy Clarke, who will be defending Jared Loughner the alleged shooter in the Tuscon shootings, has been getting a lot of press. The New York Times called her a "Master Strategist" in a article about her today. Clarke is well known for her representation of Azcarias Moussaoui, Timothy Mcveigh and Ted Kacynski.