The U.S. Justice Department is taking a stand against cities that overburden their public defenders with hundreds or even thousands of caseloads each year.
In a recent court filing, the Justice Department noted that if cities are depriving people of proper legal counsel, independent monitors should be appointed to make sure public defenders aren’t being assigned too many cases.
In Indiana, full-time lawyers are allowed to take on no more than 300 cases in a year. Part-time defenders can take on half that. It’s much less than the 2,000 cases the lawyers in the federal case were taking on.
Morgan County Public Defender Steve Litz says at 110 to 125 cases a year, his load is manageable, but says that’s not necessarily the case in other areas.
“I’m aware that there are some counties in some states where the PD’s (public defenders) are assigned an absolutely absurd number of cases, and it even has happened in Marion County,” he says.
Indiana Public Defender Council Executive Director Larry Landis agrees that Indiana may not be as bad as other states. But he says it’s still not in a good position.
“It is a shame that we still do not honor the importance and significance of having a lawyer that is able to devote adequate attention to providing defense to people who could not afford to hire their own lawyer,” he says.
Landis says every county in the state is faced with a budget problem. If counties do not have the money to hire more public defenders, the ones that are already on payroll are required to take on additional cases.
Emily Wright contributed to this report.