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Public Defense: Playing Games with Client Rights, Ethical Rules, and Attorneys’ Licenses

By Michael Barrett

At its core, an attorney’s ethical obligations exist to protect the public by ensuring that practitioners meet certain professional obligations to their clients. Or at least that is the expectation for most practitioners in the legal profession.

For years, public defenders throughout the country, particularly in states like Mississippi, Louisiana and Missouri, have yelled from the rooftops that they do not have sufficient resources to do their jobs, all in an effort to call attention to the very danger the Rules of Professional Conduct (Rules) were created to prevent. In affirmatively conceding that clients are at risk, public defenders naively believed that the courts would eagerly intercede as allies in protecting the most vulnerable clients. Regrettably, the response from the judiciary has been very much to the contrary, with increasing evidence that courts are, in many jurisdictions, actively working in open disregard to the Rules in order to “move dockets.”

The starting point in Mis

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