Friday, June 13, 2008

Cost per case at Dallas Public Defender much lower than private attorneys

Over at the Dallas Observer's blog, Unfair Park, Robert Wilonsky links to this 2005 "feasibility analysis" (pdf) from the Texas Task Force on Indigent Defense regarding creation of a PD offices in Texas that specifically compares the savings Dallas County enjoys because of it's PD office to the cost of hiring private attorneys (see Table 2, p. 10):

In 2005 according to these data, the attorney cost per felony case at the public defender office was $303.04 per case, compared with $544.62 per case for private attorneys handling indigent clients. For misdemeanors, the average cost per case at the PD office was a paltry $65.86 in 2005 compared with $118.94 for private counsel.

All told, found the report, the total savings from using the PD office instead of private appointed attorneys would have been $7.2 million that year if all indigent cases had used the PD attorneys. The analysis concluded, "In both misdemeanor and felony courts, where judges rely more heavily on public defenders for indigent defense, costs per case are substantially lower. Conversely, costs per case are highest where courts choose not to use public defenders."

The problem arose after the 2006 elections, when some rookie local judges quit assigning as many cases to the public defender office, causing their per-case cost to rise (for specific courts - overall PD costs per case are still lower). In addition, PD lawyers in recent years have more frequently taken cases to trial and spent more time securing services and shepherding mentally ill clients through the system, the Dallas News reported.

The more I consider the matter, Price's complaints seem to stem from the notion that he'd like the criminal courts to act even more as a plea mill (i.e., more cases processed per lawyer) than is already the case. Take a case to trial, give extra attention to the mentally ill, go out of your way to zealously defend your client's rights or even prove their innocence, and Commissioner Price thinks you're lazy and not processing cases quickly enough. At least that's the attitude that's come across in his public statements.

It's pretty clear that when Dallas judges use the PD system it saves the county money. Mr. Price should aim his animosity at jurists whose decisions are costing the county instead of PD lawyers who can't control the cases they're assigned.



Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Thanks for staying with this. The Commissioner's concerns about the cost of Public Defenders must be balanced against the unnecessary cost of incarceration. He may haves a hidden agenda and/or he is just plain ignorant.

Public discussion of all the implications are always very helpful to everyone involved.

Jail for people accused of victimless crimes does little to protect the public safety and the costs are enormous!

Anonymous said...

Why don't you call Joyce Ann Brown and ask her if she thinks JWP just wants the PD to run plea mills? It sounds to me as if the PD was taken to task because he wasn't able to turn around the shift from PD's to appointed attorneys. Whether you agree with JWP's politics and tactics or not, I think you will find few people who believe that he doesn't care about the guilt or innocence of the defendants. He's been a defendant himself on several occaisions.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Regardless of Joyce Ann Brown's opinion, if he's judging the PD based on cases processed per lawyer and pressuring them to increase the number, that's pressuring the agency toward "plea mill" status, no two ways about it.

I have no idea what you mean by "he wasn't able to turn around the shift from PD's to appointed attorneys." Nor do I understand why it matters if Price has been a defendant in the past. I guarantee when he was he hired his own lawyer and didn't use the public defender office.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe for an instance that Brad Lollar's management of the PD's office was the real reason that he was forced out. Anyone who knows him also knows better than to believe those gutless wonders at the Commissioners Court. The fact is that the Commissioners are attempting to use fear and intimidation as a means of forcing the PD's office to increase the individual caseload of its attorneys. By forcing Brad out, they put fear into the minds of anyone employed their that they can lose their job if they don't play ball.

To John Wiley and those other idiots on the Commissioners Court, Disband the PD's office. I need the business. Every non-public defender could use the pay increase that would come with the extra cases we could get. But don't complain when the bill comes due.

To Public Defenders don't back down. Stand firm, because if they disband the office, we will all make more money and do a hell of a lot better job than those commissioners could stand.

Anonymous said...

It is more than a little ironic that John Wiley Price would like to give short shrift to defense costs involved in the criminal justice process.

In the several cases in which he faced trial as a defendant,charged with justified criminal offenses (ie., becoming irate over someone that he bumped into him during his jogging exercise - in which he used his karate skills to intentionally break the man's leg)he did not have to stand trial like other citizens. Since he was,at that time,a civil rights firebrand, he claimed that both cases were based upon discrimination...and organized the black population to protest by blocking traffic in the streets.He also accused Henry Wade of being a white racist etc etc. Finally, the powers at that time decided that, in the interest of racial harmony in the city ,to dismiss the assault charges.Same with the other criminal case.

To my knowledge he is the only person that Henry Wade was afraid to handle. He operated above the law.

So, John Wiley has no way to empathize, or symphathize,with a defendant who doesn't have the resources to defend themselves adequately in a court of law. He never had to.

Anonymous said...

All of those commissioners in that court run their jurisdictions as little fiefdoms,accountable to no one for road maintenance or other public projects. Lot of room to line their pockets. At lease we know, an insufficient amount of that budget gets spent on any medicine or decent food for prisoners in that county jail.

It doesn't surprise that they don't want to allocate amply funds for defense of the accused before they get put into that cesspool.

Anyone in that jail would happily volunteer to exchange places with the terrorists at Guantanamo. They get good food and medical attention. And, now, those pukes on the Supreme Court want to give them the constitutional rights of US citizens. We have federal judges out of control.

But as to subject: whether its a PD system or getting an attorney appointed by a judge. Neither are not going to vigorously defend a defendant. Most will try to convince the defendant to cop a plea...without mentioning that each conviction counts toward having another conviction carry an exaggerated sentence.

Anonymous said...

Acting Chief Public Defender Lynn Richardson met with the assistant public defenders on Friday. She gave them the new marching orders from the county commissioners.

Each misdemeanor public defender (PD) is to be assigned 100 new cases every month. If that quota is not met, the commissioners will eliminate that position. Somehow the commissioners determined that 100 monthly case assignments is the PD misdemeanor cost/benefit cutoff.

As the PD’s learned Friday, the commissioners are not concerned with monthly case dispositions, only case assignments. The assembled attorneys, without dissent, expressed profound incredulity at this. Unbelievably, an attorney who receives 110 cases each month, but disposes of only 50 is a cost effective PD in the eyes of the commissioners. An attorney receiving and also disposing of 97 cases each month will be eliminated. It looks like innocent people being set free, not guilty verdicts, jail overcrowding, health care for the mentally ill, social services for first offenders are no longer concerns.

For felony attorneys, the monthly quota is 40 cases a month. Some felony attorneys pointed out this caseload is far in excess of the limits set forth by the American Bar Association. In my view, this may be the issue that led to former Chief Public Defender Brad Lollar’s firing.

Lollar repeatedly and unequivocally stated that quality of representation, not numbers, is the primary objective of his office. Only a few days before his ouster, he reiterated this in an email to his attorneys. In that email, which also praised their work, he reminded them that they are attorneys first, whose job is to defend the Constitution. Given the recent developments in that office, Lollar’s words are particularly poignant.

Maybe the commissioners viewed Lollar’s words as a challenge to their authority, and that is why he had to go. Who knows? One thing is for sure, we won’t get the truth from the commissioner’s court. Given the looming budget shortfall, they are clearly fighting for their political careers. The constitutional rights of the indigent will have to wait.

For now, Richardson frankly acknowledged the issues raised regarding caseloads and quotas. She also emphasized that her primary goal is to preserve not only the public defender’s office, but every attorney’s job. These sound like laudable goals for dedicated public servant who probably has the worst job in Dallas County.

Anonymous said...

"whether its a PD system or getting an attorney appointed by a judge. Neither are not going to vigorously defend a defendant. Most will try to convince the defendant to cop a plea...without mentioning that each conviction counts toward having another conviction carry an exaggerated sentence."

As a veteran public defender, I am offended beyond all belief over this statement. Never once in my 10+ year career as a PD have I ever tried to convince a person to "cop a plea" for the sake of expedience nor have I ever not counseled them on the ramifications of their plea. It is the defendant's choice to accept or reject a plea offer, not the lawyer's. Get your facts straight before you start spouting off such absurdities.

Anonymous said...

Regarding dispositions...if a PD actually gets a case dismissed, it doesn't even count as a disposition.

Anonymous said...

Whoever is this "truetales.blogspot" is should get their facts straight. I know a good number of the defense attorneys, both private and public defenders and most would find your stupid comment offensive. However, it does show how ignorant people can be especially when dealing with appointed criminal defense work. The fact is that there are some attorneys who try very hard to plead their clients out without regard for the facts of the case. I suspect that it is the same attorneys who make $200,000 a year on court appointments only and who never develop a practice with retained cases. However, there are idiots like this "truetales idiot" who believe that all court appointed attorneys are this way. I can't tell you how many times that I have seen it in movies, on tv legal shows and heard it in the media. If it weren't already hard enough to convince people that court appointed attorney's aren't all bad, along come the pillar's of freedom and justice that are the Great Dallas County Commissioners. They are imposing quota's which have the effect of increasing the case loads of individual public defenders. These quota's not only exceed the ABA standards for public defenders', but have the potential to violate the State Bar disciplinary rules by forcing attorneys to take on more cases than they can reasonably handle. I think that it might be time to take legal action against Dallas County. If there are any ideas about how to proceed with a suit, please post. The Commissioners power grab and attempt to dictate to the attorneys how to handle their cases can not stand.

Anonymous said...

Almost every felony judge now has his or her own little pet project in their court. Some deal with defendants who have MHMR issues. Others, with those coming back from a drug treatment facility. Still others, just want to check on each of their little probationers on a regular to determine how they are getting along. Who are the attorneys handling all of these extra duties? Certainly not private attorneys. This extra work falls squarely on the shoulders of the Public Defenders. It is considered part of their duties to the particular court to which they are assigned. It's sad that the commissioners are too "busy" to come over to the courthouse and see just how much work these "lazy" lawyers do. Work that does not show up on the balance sheet. Work that is not reflected on their precious dispostion worksheets. Work that is happily performed by dedicated, yet woefully underpaid, public servants.

Anonymous said...

Well here is a piece of information that will make you even sicker. Before Brad was fired by the commissioners, they directed him to discharge a public defender who was not carrying the required number of cases and had to be moved out of several courts because of complaints by the judges. Although, no one wants to see someone lose their job, when you are not doing your job then it is time to go. JWP was instrumental in this action especially after blaming Brad for mismanagement because he didn't fire this attorney. So, this attorney is fired per instructions from the Commissioners. However, JWP had a change of heart when he saw the color of the person's skin. Hmmmm.

Anonymous said...

Ok, since some have questioned whether or not I had any basis to proffer the opinion I posted, I will provide a synopsis of two cases in which I have personal nowledge. These two cases are those which received national notoriety, and were vetted from every angle.

Randall Dale Adams was charged with killing a cop.The movie/documentary ,"The Thin Blue Line" was based on that case. Douglas Mulder (the presumed successor to Henry Wade upon his retirement) decided to personally prosecute that case.The defense of Adams was assigned to Edith James, an old beer guzzling gal who didn't know squat about either civil or criminal law. Strangely enough, I was at her house one evening after promising to bring her a six-pack of beer, as a fee of sorts for having discussed a legal matter with her in the law library. While at her house the phone rang repeatedly. and she would only pick it up and hang up. I asked her who it was. She said, "oh its that damn Randall Dale Adams who I've been appointed to represent for killing that cop...everyone knows he did it. So, I'm just tired of listening to his endless whining that he is being set up,"

One witness for the prosecution waa a real trashy white woman, who was living as a "common- law" wife to some black dude in the projects, near the proximity where the cop
was killed. She testified that she could identify Adams in that car while passing by it at 40 miles an hour even though it was was a
cold winter night with the windows up and the glass was foggy. She never explained why she came to glance at that car. A member of the defense team did try to do some
discovery on her prior to trial but Mulder said she was unavailable and our or town. Several years later it was discovered that Mulder had her stashed away at a motel.

But the main witness against Adams was the driver and owner of that car. He testified that Adams did do the shooting. Of course, Adams stated that he was only a passenger
in the car, and was only acquainted with the driver since they were staying at the same motel. He said the driver invited him to go out to get a burger. He said it was the driver who had shot the cop after
being stopped for some traffic offence.It was later learned that the sheriff in that driver's home town had called the DA's office several times to persuade them they
were prosecuting the wrong guy, since that sheriff knew the kid to be a bad dude. That driver did indeed have a lengthy criminal
record, whereas Adams had a clean sheet. Why Doug decided to give the driver immunity for his testimony
against Adams - instead of prose-
cuting the driver is still a
a mystery.


Anyway, Adams was sentenced to life without parole. He might still be there if that driver had not committed another murder some time later. With nothing to lose, the driver then admitted to killing that cop in Dallas. In a very strange legal manuever. the case was brought back to District
Court where it was dismissed with prejudice?

By the way, the trashy broad later admitted she lied to try and get the reward that was offered.

Then there was the case of Lennel Geter, a black engineer at E-Systems in Greenville, Texas. He was in a Greenvile park having his lunch when a bubba-type cop arrested him for some ordinance violation. Someone at the station said he resembled the drawing of a
black man who had robbed a fast food chicken joint in Balch Springs, Texas (outside Dallas). The employees of that joint were showed a photo lineup...and even though Geter did not fit the description which those employees first gave of the robber, the cops convinced them they thought that Geter was the robber. The employees went along with the cops.

Geter was appointed an attorney (even though he could well have afforded to hire his own).He later explained that he thought it was all a big mistake because at the time of the robbery he was working with 10-12 other engineers in Greenville, who were ready to testify to that fact. He simply thought the case would be dropped at a hearing on the matter.

Anyway, on the date of trial, Geter met his appointed attorney for the first time 15 minutes before the trial setting. After he heard Geter's story he went into the court and approached the Judge
to ask for a continuance. Surprise
...that Judge was Harry Lines, a visiting judge from Texarkana.(I knew Judge Lines very well since
I used to cut his grass as a young boy...and was in the same class as his daughter). Judge LInes
told the attorney that he had already had several continuances and had had plenty of time to have subpoenaed any witnesses he needed. He then told him ."proceed with your defense in this case". "Surprise...Mr Geter was convicted of robbery.

Later, on appeal, he did hire a bunch of high powered lawyers...and at a new trial he did have a slew of engineers testify that Geter
was with them working on a project at the time of the robbery. Geter was acquitted.


Anyway, if you think those defense attorneys did a steller job in those cases , then I suppose
I am indeed, an idiot.

But, in defense of all lawyers, let me add that I don't think any lawyer can not do a very good job without a hell of a lot of research - both of case law and investiga-
tion of the parties and and facts
I have often gone around the clock, without sleep, writing up motions,etc,based on that research , and outlines for trial presentation (not to mention any discovery). I can not consider that I could handle more that 10 cases a month at most to do a reasonable job. For those commissioners
to expect the number of cases they want to be handled is to force malpractice of law. Also, public defenders and appointed lawyers start with a great disadvantage by not having the resources that are available to the prosecution - namely a staff of investigators.

PS: By the way, I was aware of Brad Lollar from a number of years ago. Didn't know he went to work for the county. He was one of the better
defense lawyers..although,even in the 80s it took a $25,000 retainer to hire him. Unfortunately they are not many Cullen Davises around
who can afford those fees.

Anonymous said...

Grits-for the criminal courts, the judicial performance reports are pretty detailed. For the family and juvenile courts, though, it's impossible to determine from those reports the cost difference between PDs and assigned counsel. Nor do those reports differentiate between types of cases. For example, in the juvenile courts, the reports don't split out the cost differences between CPS and delinquency cases. If you can determine that from the information in those reports, let me know. I sure can't.

Anonymous said...

So what's this I hear about an open records request filed by a Dallas Morning News reporter for some kind of paperwork going between the PD's office and JWP? What's that about?

Anonymous said...

Good Job! :)