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Eyes on Ohio: Seeking Sustainable Reform in the Buckeye State
By Janet Moore
As the nation’s public defense crisis erupts in a litigation explosion, Ohio has flown under the radar. Several factors kept Ohio out of the crosshairs. Like neighboring Michigan and Pennsylvania, Ohio is in the Rust Belt, and presents two major obstacles for reform advocates. First, Ohio is a “home rule” state. As a result, political power — and the primary responsibility for indigent defense — is scattered among Ohio’s 88 counties.1 Second, those 88 counties make up a state that is large, populous, and geographically diverse. Major urban and industrial areas from Cleveland to Cincinnati are surrounded by swaths of farmland, which rise into coal-mining country in the Appalachian hills to the east.
Until recently, Ohio’s size, diversity, and decentralized politics helped shield the state’s public defense system from national scrutiny. This was so despite the fact that the state’s split system, which delegates nearly all responsibility for trial-level representation to the counties, was
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