Public defender offices handled 352 cases per attorney in 2007, according to a new report released by the Justice Department. The caseloads are unlikely to decrease amid state budget shortfalls.
Legal blogger Matt Kelley writes:
Staffing cuts -- and therefore, caseload spikes -- have been hitting [public defender] offices hard during this difficult year for state budgets. Support staff is sometimes the first to go when budgets get tight, and the loss of these critical team members can be devastating for the quality of representation. The [Justice Department] study found that the 17,000 attorneys in 2007 were aided by 11,000 support staff - from secretaries to file clerks to investigators and paralegals. Prosecutors have investigators on their side -- they're called police -- so when public defenders lose their investigators, the scales become even more unbalanced.
This weekend, a Kentucky county learned that it must cut 30 percent of its budget for next year and an Indiana county announced that it was cutting several attorney and support staff positions. Prosecutors' offices are feeling the pinch, too, and a Michigan DA is thinking about suing his own county over deep cuts on the table.
[Image via Rick Waller.]