It should be mentioned that attorneys must now take 40 NEW cases each month, but without a similar statistical emphasis on dispositions. So unless they become essentially a cog in the plea mill machine, this rule insists that PDs caseloads will balloon exponentially over time, quickly devolving into absurdity with PDs expected to zealously represent hundreds of clients with serious felony cases at any one time. The commissioners court has demanded these attorneys choose between their job and their ethics to the detriment of the taxpayers and the justice system.
A while back the county commissioners’ court started making life difficult for the PDs for seemingly no reason. We had always been required to keep monthly stats on our docket (number of cases appointed, pending cases, cases disposed by trial, plea, revocation, et cetera) and that was okay. But then the commissioners wanted weekly stats. Why? Who knows. I mean all you have to do is divide our monthly stats by four and you have a pretty good idea what we did on a weekly basis. And because they wanted them in different formats, it meant keeping two sets of stats. And then they wanted us to use an absolutely worthless case management program. So with stats and the new program, every time I did anything, it took about three times as long as it should. When you add that on top of the legendary heavy caseload a PD juggles, it’s a recipe for disaster.
And that brings us to the caseload. Until a few months ago, there was no written rule about how many cases we had to carry. But supposedly some people weren’t carrying their weight. But instead of addressing those specific problems (if there were problem people not carrying their weight the commissioners would’ve known just who they were based on the various stats they kept), they upped the number of cases we all had to take. First it was 30 new cases a month for felony attorneys. Then 35. Then 40. 40! 40 felonies a month. And many of us handled little or no “easy” cases like probation violations. Try handling 40 1st, 2nd, and 3rd degree felonies a month. All my friends outside the PDs office recognized it for what it was: madness.So all this built up until David and I couldn’t take it. We resigned because we knew we couldn’t give all our clients the representation they deserved with the way the office was headed. And we weren’t alone. In the past month or so five attorneys have resigned. One was even board certified in criminal law. I love the PDs office with all my heart. I respect the attorneys up there and hope they’re able to right the ship. It’s a tragedy that is absolutely pointless if you ask me.
Good luck to Howard, Woodruff, the others who've departed and everybody they left behind at the PDs office, who are clearly going through a rough stretch. The irony is, these lawyers will continue to represent indigent defendants at the courthouse, I'm sure. The only difference will be that in both the short and long haul, their services will cost the county more.
MORE: Unfair Park, which profiled Howard a couple of years ago, comments on recent public defender defections.
See related Grits posts:
- State indigent defense task force: Dallas public defender caseloads too high
- Texas Lawyer: Dallas public defender lacked protection from political winds
- Dallas public defender purge raises legal and policy questions
- Cost per case at Dallas Public Defender much lower than private practice
- Rothgery v. John Wiley Price: Move to slash public defender budget couldn't come at worse time
- Dallas public defender budget saves county money compared to neighbors