16:01, February 01 241 0 abajournal.com

2019-02-01 16:01:07
This public defender was juggling 195 felony cases at once; ‘the workload can be overwhelming’

stacks of paper files.

Image from Shutterstock.

Back in April 2017, Jack Talaska was working as a public defender in Lafayette, Louisiana, assigned to handle 194 felony cases. Workload studies indicate he needed to do the work of five lawyers to serve his clients, 113 of whom had been formally charged.

The New York Times spoke with Talaska for its article on reform efforts that focus on using data to establish workload standards for indigent defense. The idea is to use studies to show public defenders are too overworked to provide effective assistance of counsel, the ABA Journal reported in January 2017.

“The workload can be overwhelming even under the best circumstances, and most offices never experience the best circumstances,” said Talaska, who is no longer a public defender. “Most offices don’t have paralegals, law clerks or full-time investigators.” The work falls to lawyers, who are expected to handle everything.

The New York Times visited a court in Providence, Rhode Island, where as many as 50 or more newly arrested defendants were represented by the same lawyer, Bob Marro. He would receive the paperwork on his new clients minutes before court opened for the day, “prioritizing cases like a triage doctor,” the Times wrote.

Marro, who recently retired, counseled his new clients as they faced the magistrate or judge, whispering to them with while holding up a manila folder to block the conversations from onlookers. “The lucky ones got five minutes of his time,” the New York Times reported. “Others might have gotten a minute.”

The workload studies are being conducted by the ABA and accounting firms. They rely on interviews of private lawyers and public defenders to determine the amount of time needed to handle different types of criminal cases.

One study found that public defenders in Louisiana have a workload almost five times the workload needed to provide an adequate defense. In Colorado, Missouri and Rhode Island, public defenders handled two to three times the workload they should be carrying.

Related article:

ABA Journal: “Starved of money for too long, public defender offices are suing—and starting to win”

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