Page 25 - Ad Hoc Report June 2018
P. 25

  Stifled Under Layers of Bureaucracy
The federal program charged with ensuring representation for indigent defen- dants in federal courts nationwide is deeply enmeshed in the Judicial Branch of government. The Judicial Conference of the United States (JCUS), the governing and rule-making body of the judiciary, has ultimate authority. JCUS is composed of judges from both appellate and district courts and is chaired by the Chief Justice of the United States.
Within JCUS, the Defender Services Committee is nominally tasked with devel- oping relevant policy, but the Executive Committee can withdraw any portion
of that policy-making power at any time. Most notably, in 2013 an effort to “enhance coordination and oversight” of the judiciary’s own resources resulted in the Executive Committee stripping the Defender Services Committee of the power to determine staffing and compensation in federal defender organizations. Additionally, the JCUS Budget Committee controls funding priorities through its central role in the budgeting process.
The responsibility for implementing policy falls on the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO). Up until 2013, the AO included the directorate-level Office of Defender Services, which directly administered the federal system of public defense. A casualty of the 2013 reorganization mentioned above, this office was demoted and renamed Defender Services Office (DSO), and now has much less autonomy and flex- ibility. In addition to a greater level of micromanagement and bureaucratic supervi- sion that has resulted, the shift was demoralizing for many defenders, a sign in their view that defense work is a service to the courts.
Individual defenders have limited direct access to these entities that exert consider- able influence over their day-to-day work. For example, both the Defender Services Office and the Defender Services Advisory Group, composed of defender office and panel attorney representatives, must receive approval from the AO to raise crucial issues for discussion at Defender Services Committee meetings.
Although defender services is a separate line-item constituting approximately
16 percent of the judiciary’s annual budget, defenders cannot advocate for funding before Congress. The Defender Services Committee has little influence over the Chair of the Budget Committee and the Director of the AO who represent the judiciary in Congressional budget hearings.
It has been stated to Congress that defender services represent an increasing share of the budget. In fact, most of the increase is related to the growing cost of operat- ing the courts, as set out in the chart on page 14. Although the need for defenders is greater than ever—the result of a large and growing number of federal defendants who can’t afford counsel—the rate of increase of the overall budget since 2005 has outpaced the budget for defender services.
No recommendation presented herein represents
the policy of the Judicial Conference of the United 2 0 1 7 R E P O R T O F T H E 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 xxiii
States unless approved by the Conference itself.

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