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NACDL News: NACDL Sponsors Hill Briefing on Federal Indigent Defense Crisis
By Ivan J. Dominguez and Isaac Kramer
NACDL News columns.
Panelists at the Capitol Hill briefing stressed how severe budget cuts are damaging the indigent defense system.
On Sept. 17, 2013, Constitution Day, NACDL co-sponsored a congressional briefing — “Chipping Away at the Sixth Amendment: Federal Indigent Defense in Crisis” — at the Rayburn House Office Building. The purpose of the briefing was to alert Congress to the drastic and ongoing effects sequestration is having on the federal indigent defense system. It began with remarks by Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA). NACDL Executive Director Norman Reimer then moderated a panel featuring Chief Officer Cait T. Clarke, Office of Defender Services, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts; Professor Norman Lefstein, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law; Executive Director David Patton, Federal Defenders of New York; and National CJA Panel Representative Chip Frensley. The ABA’s Criminal Justice Section, Brennan Center for Justice, Federal Bar Association, ACLU, NLADA, Constitution Project, and American Council of Chief Defenders co-sponsored the briefing.
At the briefing, each of the speakers emphasized how cuts to both federal defender offices and the rates paid to private attorneys jeopardize the hybrid system of well-qualified public and private attorneys, placing the Sixth Amendment and the integrity of the federal criminal justice system at risk. The panelists further demonstrated how cuts not only diminish the criminal justice system’s ability to function, but lead to increased costs in the long term (through pretrial incarceration, additional administrative burdens, and the like). Todd Ruger of the National Law Journal covered the briefing in a piece published on Sept. 18. Ruger’s article contains a link to a talking points memo NACDL made available at the briefing. Two days after the briefing, The Hill newspaper published an Op-Ed by Norman Lefstein addressing the “essential role of private lawyers in defending the poor.”
NACDL has continued to address the funding crisis faced by the federal indigent defense system elsewhere as well. In late August, NACDL co-sponsored an event with the Federal Bar Association at the Library of Congress commemorating the 50th anniversary of the passage of the Criminal Justice Act of 1964. This event highlighted the effects that sequestration has had on the federal indigent defense system. A link to the complete webcast of the event, which was aired live and online by C-Span, is available on NACDL’s website.
In addition, through its Manager for Grassroots Advocacy Chris Glen, NACDL has helped facilitate and schedule meetings for NACDL and affiliate members with their elected representatives both in-district and on Capitol Hill. NACDL has also made talking points available for use in the extensive advocacy efforts NACDL is spearheading on this issue.
With the Executive Committee of the Administrative Office of the Courts recommending both a deferral of payments to panel attorneys and a rate decrease for the upcoming fiscal year, NACDL has continued to coordinate national efforts aimed at the restoration of funding to the federal indigent defense system. Together with its affiliates, federal defenders, CJA panel attorneys and other stakeholders, NACDL continues to focus its efforts to educate Congress on the dire nature of this crisis and the need for additional funding.