Page 22 - Ad Hoc Report June 2018
P. 22

 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
The fact that
there are Federal Defender Offices or Community Defender Offices serving 91 of the 94 judicial districts, is one of the great achievements
of the Criminal Justice Act.
Department of Justice’s expenditures on training and training facilities for pros- ecutors exceeds the entire budget of the Defender Services Office (DSO). Lack of resources limits the amount of training DSO can provide. Moreover, panel attorneys from rural areas testified that the cost and difficulty of traveling to attend a national or regional training is a real barrier. While learning occurs organically in the context of a defender office—and these offices have considerable expertise to share—staff shortages and other fiscal constraints limit the amount of training institutional defenders can provide to panel attorneys in their district.
Destabilizing Defender Offices
Panel attorneys are not the only defense practitioners unfairly hampered in their work as a result of judicial oversight. The extraordinary authority and latitude given to individual circuit court judges to appoint and remove federal defenders, set staff- ing levels at federal public defender offices, and even to create or dissolve both federal and community defender offices, leads to vast discrepancies in organiza- tional capacity and, arguably, in the quality of defense. A 2013 work-measurement study by the Judicial Resources Committee was instrumental in revealing that many defender offices are severely understaffed.
Several federal public defenders testified to the Committee that the nature
of the appointment cycle—a four-year term with no presumption of reappoint- ment—creates a destabilizing environment in which they feel hamstrung as man- agers of their offices and, in some instances, beholden to the judiciary. Some federal defenders told the Committee they were reluctant to ask for staff increases, even when desperately needed, fearing such requests would negatively affect their prospects for reappointment. Several defenders even said they felt pressure to base hiring and budgeting decisions on the preferences of individual judges, rather than the best interests of their indigent clients, to bolster their chances of reappointment.
The fact that there are Federal Defender Offices or Community Defender Offices serving 91 of the 94 judicial districts, is one of the great achievements of the Criminal Justice Act—growth that would not have happened without judicial leadership. These institutional defenders raise the quality of defense in their districts through their own practice, by the example they set, and in some instances, through guidance they pro- vide to less experienced panel attorneys. Still, in one of the three districts without a defender office, the Committee heard testimony that inexperienced panel attorneys are routinely assigned to defend clients outside their areas of expertise. Individual judges should not determine whether to establish institutional defenders offices in these three districts, or whether the defender offices that currently exist continue to operate.
The judiciary exerts control over defender offices in other ways as well. The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) controls the information systems these offices rely on to manage cases, which not only reduces efficiency but also puts
No recommendation presented herein represents A D H O C C O M M I T T E E T O R E V I E W T H E C R I M I N A L J U S T I C E A C T the policy of the Judicial Conference of the United States unless approved by the Conference itself.
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