NACDL has long focused on state indigent defense reform, often pointing to the federal indigent defense system as a model. That is a system that features a healthy mix of public and prviate participation with adequate funding and resources. Severe funding cuts imposed during the last few months, however, have focused NACDL's attention and efforts on the deepening crisis in federal indigent defense.
Just this week, NACDL drafted and coordinated a joint letter encouraging Members of Congress to sign a letter drafted by Representatives Quigley and Bonamici which urges support for the Federal Defender Services. The letter will be sent to House Speaker Boehner and Minority Leader Pelosi and urges them to address this vital issue during budget negotiations.
NACDL Organizes Constitution Day Hill Briefing on Federal Indigent Defense Crisis
The next seven entries below provide detail on NACDL's extensive efforts in recent months to restore funding for federal indigent defense.
On Tuesday, September 17, NACDL co-sponsored a congressional briefing - "Chipping Away at the Sixth Amendment: Federal Indigent Defense in Crisis" - at the Rayburn House Office Building. The briefing was held 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 Cait T. Clarke, Chief Officer, Office of Defender Services, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts; Norman Lefstein, Professor of Law and Dean Emeritus, Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law; David Patton, Executive Director, Federal Defenders of New York; and Chip Frensley, National CJA Panel Representative. The briefing was co-sponsored by the ABA's Criminal Justice Section, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Federal Bar Association, the ACLU, the NLADA, the Constitution Project and the American Council of Chief Defenders.
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. Cait Clarke, Chief Officer of the Office of Defender Services at the AO said "The model system is the federal defender program because it's a hybrid. It means we have federal defender programs and we have private attorneys, panel attorneys who work on an hourly rate or basis to protect the right to counsel. And they work together in a symbiotic relationship." And Professor Lefstein implored that "The federal program needs to survive intact. It needs to survive as a model for the nation. It should not be permitted to descend to the abysmal level that has been so repeatedly criticized in state and local jurisdictions. It is clearly, however, moving rapidly in the wrong direction. And the cause of justice will be ill-served if this trend continues and should be permitted to accelerate." 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 pre-trial incarceration, additional administrative burdens, and the like).
Todd Ruger of the National Law Journal covered the briefing in a piece published on September 18. Ruger's article contains a link to a talking points memo NACDL made available at the briefing. An Op-Ed by Norman Lefstein, one of the panelists at the event, addressing the "Essential role of private lawyers in defending the poor" was published two days after the briefing by The Hill. (See also: Letter from NACDL Executive Director Norman Reimer on the same subject to the Editor of the New York Times, April 24, 2013.)
NACDL Coordinates Meetings with Elected Representatives and Organizes Efforts with Other Stakeholders
NACDL, through its Manager for Grassroots Advocacy Chris Glen, has helped facilitate and schedule meetings for NACDL and affiliate members with their elected representatives both in-district and on the Hill. NACDL has also made a talking points memo available far and wide 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 financial year, NACDL will continue to coordinate national efforts aimed at the restoration of funding to the Federal Indigent Defense System. Together with our 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.
NACDL Submits Letter to Chief Justice and the Executive Committee of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts
In August, the Executive Committee of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts determined that in addition to a four week deferral of payments to panel attorneys, the rates would be cut as well beginning September 1, 2013, and continuing throughout fiscal year 2014, from $125 to $110.
In advance of that decision, NACDL coordinated and submitted a letter from NACDL and nearly 30 of its affiliates, representing significantly more than 20,000 criminal defense lawyers, to the Chief Justice and the Executive Committee of the Administrative Office opposing further cuts to the federal defenders or to panel rates.
NACDL Executive Director Speaks at "The Criminal Justice Act at 50: The Past, Present, and Future of the Right to Counsel in Federal Courts"
On August 20, NACDL Executive Director Norman Reimer spoke at "The Criminal Justice Act at 50: The Past, Present, and Future of the Right to Counsel in Federal Courts," a special event sponsored by the Federal Bar Association's Criminal Law Section. In his remarks, Reimer drew attention to the latest budget cuts leveled at federal indigent defense and the ongoing difficulties indigent defenders in the states face. Reimer observed that, "You cannot subjugate a fundamental constitutional right to budgetary bean counters or leave it exposed and unprotected from the arbitrary political winds that swirl through this town. If you treat the defense function as a mere line item in a budget, you are shortchanging justice. And you will probably spend more money in the long run."
The event, which was held at the Library of Congress, was aired live and online by C-SPAN. Other speakers at the event included David Mao, Law Librarian of Congress; Geoff Cheshire, Chair of the Federal Bar Association's Criminal Law Section; Honorable Gustavo A. Gelpi, Jr., President-Elect, Federal Bar Association; James R. Silkenat, President, American Bar Association; Thomas Giovanni, Counsel, Brennan Center for Justice, New York University; Cait T. Clark, Assistant Director for Defender Services, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts; and David Patton, Executive Director of the Federal Defenders of New York.
Click here to read a media alert NACDL issued in advance of the event. A complete webcast of the event is also available here.
NACDL Board Adopts Resolution Opposing Cuts to Federal Defender Offices
At its annual meeting in late July, NACDL's Board unanimously approved a resolution supporting a fully resourced hybrid system of indigent defense; opposing any further cuts to the Federal Defender Offices; opposing any reduction in the rate of compensation paid to assigned counsel under the CJA; and calling upon Congress to create a federally funded, independent Office of Defender Services.
NACDL Submits Letters to Senate Calling for Adequate Funding to Federal Defender Organizations to be Restored
On July 23, NACDL submitted letters to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Bankruptcy and the Courts and the Senate Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government voicing its concern over deep cuts to the federal public defenders' budget and calling for full funding to be restored. The letters were submitted to coincide with the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the impact of the sequester on the courts and funding bill markup in the Appropriations Subcommittee. NACDL submitted the letters jointly with the Constitution Project, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, and the American Council of Chief Defenders.
Complete copies of these coalition letters can be found here.
NACDL Issues Statement on Inadequate Funding and Independence of the Federal Indigent Defense System
Following deep funding cuts that began before the federal sequester and were increased after the sequester took effect, the nation's federal indigent defense system is in crisis. These cuts are having a devastating effect on the nation's federal defenders, and delayed payments are inflicting extraordinary hardship on the small firm and solo practitioners who provide indigent defense services through a panel appointment system. And now, another serious blow has been delivered to federal indigent defense.
In late June, America's federal indigent defense system, known as the Office of Defender Services (ODS), was demoted. ODS not only continues to lack institutional independence, which is critical to our adversarial system and the proper administration of justice, but as of June it has been lowered to subordinate entity status within the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. NACDL has a long and proud history of supporting the independence of the judiciary, as well as appropriate compensation for our nation's judges and resources for our nation's court system, but NACDL also strongly supports full independence for ODS.
Steven D. Benjamin, NACDL's President at the time, took the opportunity as a witness at the House Overcriminalization Task Force's inaugural hearing on June 14 to clearly and forcefully call upon Congress to address the crisis in funding for federal indigent defense. A webcast of that hearing is available here.
NACDL's complete June 25, 2013, statement "Nation's Criminal Defense Bar Sounds Alarm Over Inadequate Funding and Independence of the Federal Indigent Defense System" is available here.