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Court Upholds Dismissal Of Johnson Co. Public Defense Suit

The lawsuit accuses county commissioners, judges and public defenders of failing to uphold the county's constitutional obligation to provide adequate indigent defense services.

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit alleging Johnson County’s public defense system is inadequate.

At issue is whether Johnson County is meeting its constitutional obligation to provide public defense services to those who can’t afford an attorney.

The lawsuit alleges seven men facing criminal charges in the county aren’t receiving adequate representation because of unmanageable caseloads. The lawsuit names Johnson county commissioners, public defenders and judges as defendants.

Read More: Justice For All? An In-Depth Look At Indiana’s Public Defender System

A lower court previously dismissed the lawsuit, saying it didn’t properly state a claim for relief.

In the Court of Appeals ruling affirming that decision, Judge James Kirsh writes, “The Johnson County public defender system may suffer from the flaw of not employing enough attorneys under contract to act as public defenders and manage the caseload for indigent criminal defendants in Johnson County. However, in order to solve that issue, a greater appropriation from the Johnson County Commissioners for hiring public defenders would be necessary, the Appellants are not requesting at this time.”

A similar lawsuit filed in federal court in 2015 challenges Allen County’s public defense system. That case is still pending.

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