Thursday, March 29, 2018

Public Defense 18B Lawyers Not Always the Best Defense

There is a New York Times article on a public defender (appointed) lawyer in Texas. The judge is accusing the attorney of spending too much time with the client, billing the state too much money, and spending resources on a vigorous defense.

Do New York judges routinely cut public defenders bills?

What is the state of affairs with New York 18 B lawyers?

Does the state have to provide the best defense or merely a reasonable one?

Public Defenders or 18 B Attorneys Can Be Overworked and Underpaid

I was once an appointed attorney or 18B lawyer. In many New York State counties they have a public defender office. Some of those attorneys are full or part time. In many other counties that don't have a formal public defender office the judge will either assign a local attorney from the bench or they will have a list of appointed attorneys once they qualify for  one by the county office. This is called 18B work or 18B lawyers.

Public Defense is a Great Way to Learn How to Practice Law

The experience I gained as a public defender in Ithaca, NY was invaluable and I am a much better lawyer because of it. I handled Tompkins county family law cases, child support cases, and any criminal case they would hand me to represent. After that I branched out my criminal defense to the other surrounding counties, Tioga county, Schuyler county, and Cortland county. My years cutting my teeth so to speak in public defense aided all of my private defense cases.

The Dark Side of Appointed New York 18B/Public Defender Lawyers

To balance all this out I've also had judges cut my legal bills. Tell me that the mileage I drove was inaccurate, the hours I spent too excessive, and that they were reducing my bill. After a few of those incidents I decided that public defense was not for me. I went straight up private. I could give my clients better representation with no limits to my defense of their cases.

Many public defenders stay on doing this work but at a cost. They must work within the system. They have to go along to get along. In other words, if you bite the hand that feeds you well maybe that hand won't feed you. Whether there can ever be a balance between private and public representation or whether everyone will get the same shake is a pipe dream.

Not all New York Criminal Defense Is the Same

Different cases require different levels of involvement. Time is always a finite resource, we each get 168 hours a week. How we choose to spend that time, where we choose to spend that time, and who is going to pay for that time is another story. The New York Times article merely points out some issues with pubic criminal defense. Whether these issues can ever be addressed or properly sorted is for the legislature and not for  me to resolve.