Tag Archives: defender

Sequester Creating Crisis in Federal Criminal Justice System

A crisis is brewing in the federal judiciary that experts say could jeopardize fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, reports the Chattanooga TFP.
“I’ve worked in all three branches of government and the private sector,” said U.S. District Judge Harry S. “Sandy” Mattice. “I have never been involved in any organization either public or private in which the workload has so far exceeded the resources that are allotted to do that job.”
Across-the-board budget cuts of 8 percent brought on by the sequester have meant hiring freezes, unfilled positions, training and travel expenses cut for what many call an already overworked portion of federal government.
The sequester is just the latest of decades-long trends of broadening federal courts’ responsibilities yet underfunding to carry out their congressional mandate, Mattice said.
But at stake are far more than layoffs, furloughs and heavier workloads, as important as those are to the people involved. The very heart of the American judicial system could be on the line, Mattice and others said.
…”Do I have to dismiss cases if we cannot pay for defender services?” Mattice said.
Though judges, court clerks and prosecutors all feel the pinch, public defenders have it worse.
Beth Ford is the federal community defender for the eastern district. Her office represents indigent criminal defendants in federal court. The task is a constitutionally-guranteed right of citizens accused of crimes.
The looming budget, due in September, looks like a “perfect storm” for defender services, she said.
“We will have a 23 percent decrease in proposed budget funding,” Ford said.
That means this year’s already reduced annual budget of $5.8 million would decline to $4.5 million. Ford avoided furloughs and layoffs this fiscal year by foregoing 401(k) contributions to her staff. That’s not likely next year, she said.
Other defender’s offices across the nation have already begun layoffs and furloughs, she said.
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann said he’d met recently with district judges and U.S. Attorney Bill Killian about the problems they’re facing.
“They are making do with less and I commend them,” Fleischmann.
…Killian is down three assistant U.S. attorneys in his criminal division. The 33 remaining attorneys resolved more than 900 cases in the district spanning from the Virgina-Tennessee border to Chattanooga.
The office handles more than 1,800 ongoing cases a year among its three branches in Greeneville, Knoxville and Chattanooga.
… The district comes in at the top of per capita caseloads and prosecutions when compared to others across the United States, he added.
His criminal division attorneys average 387 hours a year of unpaid overtime each. And the eight civil division attorneys average 295 such hours.

Knox PD Fires Brother-in-Law After AG Opinion

Two decades and two opinions later, Knox County Public Defender Mark Stephens is firing his brother-in-law, reports the News Sentinel.
“I’ve already notified (investigator) Mike (Stone) that, unfortunately, he’s got to go,” Stephens said Tuesday. “To be called in one day and told you can’t work here anymore after 20 years — in this job market?”
Stephens said he was forced to fire Stone, an investigator assigned to the Public Defender’s Office’s DUI division, after the state Attorney General’s Office opined in a June 7 decision that Stephens’ employment of his brother-in-law violated Tennessee’s Nepotism Act, which was passed in 1980 and bars family members from working in the same agency if one of them has a “direct of line supervision” over the other.
Stephens hired Stone two decades ago after garnering an opinion from Andy Hardin, who was then the executive director of the Tennessee Public Defender’s Conference, that it was OK so long as Stephens had no direct supervisory control over Stone.
Stephens said he wanted to hire Stone primarily because he, unlike Stephens and his staff of white attorneys, was black and generally more accepted in the inner city from which many of Stephens’ clients hailed.