The New York Times reports on a walkout by some New York City public defenders, who left their jobs while court was still in session yesterday in order to protest courthouse arrests by federal immigration authorities. It was the second such walkout this week. Having warned the PDs not to leave their posts while court was in session, court administrators quickly reassigned ten cases to private attorneys. From the story:
The public defense organizations saw it as punishment for political advocacy; court administrators saw it as a matter of keeping the courts running.
“We say, ‘By you doing what you did, you are disrupting operations,’” said Lucian Chalfen, the spokesman for the O.C.A. “We won’t have that. It helps no one.”
The Legal Aid society argues that the reassignments were retaliatory, but at first blush it seems that the court administrators were in the right. Their job is to keep the criminal justice system moving, and assure that indigent defendants are adequately represented. Whatever one thinks of the policies motivating the walkout, the primary harm of the walkout is to the clients who need representation right then and there. Nor was the walkout directly tied to the PDs’ ability to represent their clients in New York State court; there was no direct benefit to their clients.* That this was the second walkout this week, and the fifth this year, justifies the court’s firm response.
* I recognize the argument that many of the PDs’ clients are the very people most susceptible to ICE raids. So there is certainly some overlap between the policies motivating the walkout and the needs of defendants who need public defenders. But the relationship is still indirect, and ultimately too tangential to warrant direct and continued disruption of court operations.
The Illinois Supreme Court has given the Cook County courts a six-month extension to align their civil e-filing systems with the larger state system. The County sought a one-year extension from the original January 1, 2018 deadline. The Court allowed half that time, and instructed the Cook County Clerk to “commit all necessary resources to meet the extended deadline.”
A task force appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court has recommended significant changes to the state’s program to provide attorneys for those who cannot afford them, and the court itself has resolved to act on those recommendations.
The Chattanoogan reports:
One key change is an increase in the amount attorneys are paid to work on such cases, a compensation rate that has not changed in 20 years. The Court will seek funding to increase the rates to $65 per hour, from the current $40 per hour for work outside court and $50 hourly for time spent in court. Additionally, current rules “cap” compensation on most cases at $1,000 or $1,500. The Court will request an appropriation in next year’s budget to raise the caps by $500 on all felonies and by $250 on juvenile matters.
Additionally, the Court is endorsing the recommendations to establish an appellate division of the public defenders’ offices to handle all appeals involving those offices, as well as to establish a conflicts division to facilitate representation of more indigent defendants by public defenders in lieu of private attorneys being appointed to the cases.
The entire Task Force report can be found here.
One of the challenges for litigators who practice across state boundaries is making sense of state court systems: not just the culture and norms of the area, but often the structure and administration of the courts themselves. Many states are downright byzantine, with a large number of specialized courts (sometimes with overlapping jurisdictions), and no unified (or only recently unified) court systems. Local courts, covering counties and municipalities, are often under the governance of their host city or county rather than a centralized judicial administrator.
This is a product of history as much as anything, but it leads to obvious inefficiencies. One example making the headlines this week comes from Clark County, Ohio, where the county council has voted against consolidating two clerk of court offices, in part because they use entirely different electronic records systems. The move was originally proposed as a way to save up to $400,000 a year for the cash-strapped city of Springfield, but the city was unable to fund a study to confirm that number. In the end, lawyers, judges, and others will have to continue navigating different court systems with different technological resources.
El Paso County, Texas will convert one of its existing civil courts into a family court in 2019, in order to combat a significant backlog of family cases. The county is currently operating with 1.5 fewer full time family court judges than the number recommended by the state court administrator. It receives about 16,000 family court filings each year.
This is an excellent example of an interdependent court system engaging in proactive planning to combat resource deficiencies. The county knows that it is likely to receive many more family court cases than civil cases in the coming years, and cannot reasonably expect to receive more help in the form of full-time judges. The change both promotes efficient and effective administration of justice, and signals to the resource providers in the state legislature the need for more judgeships.
In another example of external decisions directly affecting internal court operations, the state courts located in Des Moines, Washington reported a 300 percent increase in case filings after the city implemented red light cameras.
The impact of the cameras was “much greater than we anticipated,” [Judge Lisa Leone] told [the city] Council.
The judge said she was “so impressed with every single” member of her staff.
“Just today (May 11) there was a line out the door … every clerk was on the phone taking the time for every one who has questions about the cameras or anything else.”
Judge Julia Gibbons, the Chair of the Judicial Conference’s Budget Committee, appeared before a House Appropriations subcommittee yesterday to request $7.2 billion in funding for the federal courts for Fiscal Year 2018. She was joined by James Duff, the Director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The full testimony of both Judge Gibbons and Director Duff are available at the link.