In the News: Overworked Public Defenders Refuse New Cases

Public defender offices in at least seven states, including Kentucky, Florida, Missouri and Michigan, have refused to take on new cases, contending they cannot adequately represent impoverished clients due to an increasing workload and a lack of time to prepare cases. Low pay, state budget cuts to public defender programs and high lawyer turnover rates have been blamed for the problem. In September, a Florida judge ruled that the Miami-Dade County public defender’s office could refuse to represent lower felony clients in order to focus on defendants charged with more serious crimes. The state has appealed, arguing the public defender’s office must share the weight of Florida’s declining revenues. If the decision is upheld, the state will be forced to hire private lawyers at greater expense to work with the smaller pool of public defenders.

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