The Latest: No quick decision on public defender caseloads
Jul. 26, 2017
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The Latest on a Supreme Court petition to reduce workloads for public defenders in New Mexico (all times local):
The New Mexico Supreme Court is taking no immediate action on a petition from public defenders who say they are overwhelmed by cases from poor defendants, indicating that more than a day is needed to deliberate complex issues.
In oral arguments before the court on Wednesday, Assistant New Mexico Attorney General Regina Ryanczak said evidence is insufficient to prove that public defense attorneys are stretched too thin to provide effective legal representation.
Supreme court justices peppered Ryanczak and others with questions about what might be done to ease pressure on busy public defenders. Ryanczak suggested easing requirements for a speedy trial.
David Henderson of the Law Offices of the Public Defender says caseloads for public defenders in Lea County last year vastly exceeded recommended limits. He says poor defendants were left without legal representation at bail proceedings.
The New Mexico Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments in a petition to reduce the workload on public defenders who say they are being overwhelmed by poor clients.
The Law Offices of the Public Defender says its attorneys in various parts of the state are wrongfully being forced to take on more cases than they can handle without neglecting indigent defendants who cannot otherwise afford an attorney. Oral arguments began Wednesday morning.
The state's chief public defender has asked the Supreme Court to take steps to slow the flow of cases. A district judge in Lea County has refused requests by defense attorneys to withdraw from cases.
The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers says the problems in New Mexico are symptoms of a broader crisis in providing adequate legal representation to the poor.
Public defenders are appealing to the New Mexico Supreme Court to ensure they have the manpower and financial resources to provide an adequate defense to poor defendants facing possible jail time.
The New Mexico Supreme Court plans to hear oral arguments Wednesday that could decide whether public defense attorneys are being overwhelmed by caseloads and limited funding.
The independent agency overseeing public defense attorneys across New Mexico is suggesting emergency measures such as dismissing cases involving relatively minor nonviolent offenses and the recruitment of volunteer attorneys.
Overburdened public defenders late last year declined or asked to withdraw from representing hundreds of indigent criminal defendants in the southeastern corner of the state. Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur says the problem won't go away without a new approach.