August 11, 2004

Montana P.D. system "at the larval phase"; beautiful butterfly phase still a ways off

The ACLU has been fighting the state government in Helena over the quality of public defense in Montana for several years. A lawsuit was set for trial last May, but postponed to give the sides a chance to work out a legislative solution. They seem to be making some some significant progress.

When I read the assessment of indigent defense services in Montana prepared by the ACLU and the NLADA, I felt a lot of empathy for my colleagues up north. I mean, the report says,

"The defining trait of indigent defense services in Montana is a “rugged individualism” in which attorneys “go it alone,” without the funding, resources, training, supervision and oversight that other indigent defense providers and criminal defense attorneys consider essential to the provision of constitutionally adequate legal representation."

like it's a bad thing.

I'm happy that the report is paving the way for Montana p.d.'s to get all the funding, resources, training, supervision, and oversight that they need, and I also hear that there'll be pie in the sky when we die. In the meantime, it's got to be discouraging to be toiling away in the trenches without the tools you need to do the job right, making do as best you can in a bad system, and then to get slagged in public by your allies. (You know, like the way appellate p.d.'s talk about trial p.d.'s)

On the other hand, all the criticisms in the report of judges and county attorneys sound accurate and fair! "For example, one defender stated that, on at least two occasions, a Butte-Silver Bow District Court judge cautioned him, out of court, about his representation in individual cases. In both instances, according to the defender, the judge implied that he had already decided the client’s guilt and/or sentence based on evidence that he had seen ex parte, prior to any type of hearing or trial." Yep, been there.

Now, if you want a real story of p.d. staff crack-ups and intrigues, Big Sky style, follow the soap opera that is the Yellowstone County Public Defender Office. With a 2 a.m. DUI, loss of emotional equilibrium while failing to report for jail, credibility sunk into the negative regions, sexual harassment , intra-office lovin' and general managerial ickiness, oh, and a previous p.d. DUI, if this wasn't Montana, someone would've done an intervention years ago.


Ken Lammers said...

Yep, we had a report like that done recently for Virginia as well.

This note links to the report:

And here was my initial reaction when I first saw part of the report:

Ken Lammers said...
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Ken Lammers said...
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