Florida Supreme Court Holds that Public Defender May Decline Future Appointments Based On Office Wide Problems Which Impact Effective Representation
The Florida Supreme Court issued a pretty interesting opinion right before the Memorial Day weekend–Public Defender, Eleventh Judicial Circuit of Florida v. State, No. SC09-1181. I remember reading news reports about this case back in 2008 or 2009, and it seemed like a pretty big deal that the Public Defender for Miami Dade County was actually so overloaded that the entire office was filing motions in numerous non-capital felony criminal cases seeking to decline future appointments, arguing that excessive caseloads prevented the office from providing effective representation. Well, although the opinion left the most interesting matter unresolved (i.e., the question of whether to grant or deny the PD’s motion), the Court did nevertheless hold that the Public Defender could file such aggregate motions where there is an office-wide problem as to effective representation, and that motions to withdraw could be granted pursuant to Florida section 27.5303 so long as the PD shows that there is a substantial risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by representation to another client. See Public Defender, slip op., pgs. 25-35. However, because the case had been pending in the Supreme Court so long, the Court remanded the matter back to the trial court for a determination of whether the conditions underlying the PD’s motions to decline future appointments still exist.
What is the impact of this case? Well, if the trial court determines that the conditions at the Miami Dade Public Defender’s office are unchanged, and that the Public Defender’s motions should be granted, then that means the cases will have to be handled by other court-appointed counsel. In other words, more work (and fees) for other court-appointed criminal defense attorneys! Now, if we could just get the Florida Legislature to repeal the fee caps imposed last year for criminal defense and criminal appeals lawyers . . .
I hope you had a great Memorial Day weekend!