Thursday, May 29, 2008

No Lawyer For You!

Unless you've got a hundred grand stashed away in a private lawyer fund, better watch your ass.

Catastrophic budget cuts are forcing Kentucky's public defenders to refuse all but the most serious cases.

In a letter to judges released Wednesday, public advocate Ernie Lewis warned that public defenders will begin refusing certain types of cases starting July 1 as a result of the $2.3 million budget cut approved this spring by the General Assembly.

Lewis said the Department of Public Advocacy cannot afford to fill about 40 vacancies. With caseloads already at unethically high levels, Lewis said, public defenders cannot take on additional cases.

"The dilemma that now exists is that the Commonwealth of Kentucky is obligated to provide counsel to poor people charged with crimes, but the legislature has failed to fund that obligation," Lewis wrote. "DPA will assert that the solution to this is for courts to enter orders requiring the Commonwealth to pay for private counsel."

Public defenders will continue to represent poor people charged with felonies, but will reject a huge swath of lower-profile cases.

If you need but can't afford a lawyer to help you get a restraining order against an abuser, or stop your landlord from evicting you, or defend yourself against false charges that could land you in jail for a year, you're shit out of luck.

Lewis warned judges of several service cuts, the first since 1991, that will begin July 1:

• Funding will be eliminated for contract lawyers for 3,000 to 5,000 conflict-of-interest cases. These are cases in which there is more than one defendant; the DPA contracts with other lawyers so it is not representing both clients.

• The DPA will stop representing family court cases, which involve domestic violence and failure to pay child support.

• The DPA will withdraw from status offender cases, those involving children charged with running away from home, unable to be controlled by their parents or being truant.

• It will pull out of civil commitment cases, in which the state is trying to force a mentally ill person into an institution.

• It will refuse Class B misdemeanors (crimes with punishment of no more than six months in jail), some Class A misdemeanors (which carry punishment of up to one yea in jail) and probation and parole violations.

The DPA employs 350 lawyers and handled 148,518 cases last year.

Denying basic Constitutional rights to everyone who's not rich and powerful is a long-standing republican tactic, of course, but in this case, the governor whose budget incorporated these unconscionable cuts is Steve Beshear.


Shame on you, sir.

Cross-posted at BlueGrassRoots.