Restriction of Services Deja Vu

2013 began with an all-too familiar scenario: budget cuts and shortfalls. OPD once again found itself short of necessary funding to provide constitutionally-mandated legal defense for indigent defendants. Although OPD was included in the city's 2013 budget, the $400,000 appropriation cut, along with decreases in state funding and unstable revenue sources, hinder our ability to keep up with the growing demands of our criminal justice system.

While the Restriction of Services Plan this year will not be as drastic as 2012, it will cause delays in the courts and potential constitutional crises for the nearly 25,000 indigent defendants served by our office.

OPD represents over 80% of defendants in Criminal District court, most of the defendants in Municipal Court and many in Traffic Court. Hiring freezes, attorney shortages, rising caseloads and service restrictions are slowing case processing time, affecting the quality of service and jeopardizing the integrity of court proceedings, particularly in conflict representation and Municipal Court, both severely understaffed.

Attorney caseloads throughout all divisions are quickly rising beyond the state standards; most attorneys already exceed state standards. While the return of conflict representation in the Conflict Division in July 2012 was much-needed, its reduced capacity is not enough to adequately and ethically keep up with the demand. The situation in Municipal Court is also especially urgent as those attorneys are already above manageable levels.

While we are thrilled about our newly-created in-house Capital Division, we have been forced to slash the division's budget. As a consequence, OPD will not be in a position to handle any increase in capital prosecutions this fiscal year.

OPD continues to advocate for adequate and stable funding for public defense. The growing funding crisis compromises OPD's ability to provide constitutionally-mandated legal services, brings higher costs in our criminal justice system, and ultimately puts public safety at risk. We continue working with our partners and stakeholders in the hopes these service restrictions do not have to continue.

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