||Justice and Public Safety Cabinet
|Is Justice Being Jeopardized in Kentucky?
||September 27, 2004
Department of Public Advocacy
100 Fair Oaks Lane, Suite 302
Frankfort, Kentucky 40601
Tel: (502) 564-8006, #108;
Fax: (502) 564-0511
(Frankfort, KY, September 27, 2004) Forty years ago, in the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright, the United States Supreme Court declared "any person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him." As the justices said, "This seems an obvious truth." Yet decades later has the promise of Gideon been fulfilled in Kentucky?
The Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy (DPA) represents over 120,000 citizens each year in Kentucky's trial and appellate courts. The staff of the Kentucky's statewide defender program protects what we value most - our liberty and our lives. Every day in Kentucky’s 120 counties public defenders stand up for citizens who are accused by the Commonwealth of having committed a crime. Defenders insure the criminal justice process is fair, the result reached by jurors and judges is reliable, and that individual liberty is protected.
DPA has announced today its annual report of the numbers of cases and clients represented by public defenders during the last year. This report demonstrates that the quality of justice being provided by Kentucky’s public defenders is compromised by the continued significant increase in caseload. Findings of the most recent caseload report reveal:
- Overall cases rose to 131,094, up from 117,132 the previous year.
- Cases at the trial level increased by 12% during FY04.
- Cases have been steadily rising over the past four years. In FY2000, DPA had 97,818 cases. In FY 01, DPA had 101,847 cases. This increased to 108,078 in FY02, and again to 117,132 in FY03.
- Public defenders began FY04 with an average caseload of 484. DPA used additional revenue during FY04 to hire 10 new caseload reduction lawyers and placed them in offices with the heaviest caseloads.
- Public defenders ended FY04 averaging 489 new cases annually. Despite the hiring of the new caseload reduction lawyers in FY04, the average caseload has risen by 1.1%. DPA’s average caseload for its trial attorneys is 185% of the recognized National Advisory Commission’s national standards.
- In its 1999 report, the Blue Ribbon Group on Improving Indigent Defense for the 21st Century recommended that until funding was available to meet national standards, rural Kentucky public defender offices should carry no more than 350 cases per lawyer, while urban offices should carry no more than 450 cases per lawyer. DPA is now further away from meeting this interim goal.
- One office, Hazard, averaged in excess of 600 new cases per lawyer in FY04.
- Sixteen offices had average caseloads in excess of 500 new cases per lawyer.
- In the 1999 Blue Ribbon Group Report, it was found that the Department of Public Advocacy was near the bottom among all the states in per case funding. In FY 1998, the funding per case was at $187. In FY03, the funding per case was at $238. In FY04, per case funding declined 4.2% to $228.
- DPA represented 18,006 children and youth in FY04.
- Public defenders are now required to represent clients in drug court and family court in addition to circuit, district, and juvenile court. Defenders have received no new funding for their responsibilities in drug and family court.
In light of the Department’s most recent data, Public Advocate Ernie Lewis comments, "Is the quality of justice compromised when public defenders in Kentucky are being called upon to represent Kentucky accused citizens at 185% of nationally recognized standards? We are approaching that point when our public defenders are simply unable to perform their essential task of defending the accused due to these crushing caseloads. The people of the Commonwealth want to believe that the quality of justice provided an accused does not depend upon the money available to pay a lawyer. These caseloads threaten that fundamental belief."
This Caseload Report will be presented to the Public Advocacy Commission at its meeting on October 1, 2004.
A full copy of the FY 2004 DPA Defender Caseload Report is available at the Department or Public Advocacy Website at www.dpa.state.ky.us .