Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Piling On

As if the criminal justice system isn't under enough strain, here's an example of how not to solve the problem. Frustrated with the lack of public defenders to represent juvenile defendants, the Chief Judge of the Juvenile Court held in contempt and jailed Steve Singer, the trial chief of the public defender's office. Brilliant! There aren't enough lawyers, so toss one of the few experienced public defenders in jail. Fortunately, Mr. Singer was released by day's end, leading to discussions with the Chief Judge about plans to increase the number of lawyers. What a way to spark a conversation.

The Chief Judge's frustration is understandable. (Indeed, any sensible person probably shares his impatience.) But this is a curious way to tackle the problem. Surely no public defender needs to see central lock-up from the inside to know the system isn't working. Maybe some others could use a jailhouse invitation to spark some change. Why not jail prosecutors who routinely are not ready to proceed to trial and seek continuances as matter of routine? Or police officers who fail to appear for scheduled hearings? Or Sheriff's deputies who fail to transport prisoners for court hearings? Or court officials who can't seem to schedule proceedings in an efficient manner (rather than the woefully inefficient daily cattle calls)? Or legislators who won't allocate enough funds to pay to fix the system? Or the voters who keep electing these folks to office without demanding more accountability and results? The quotidian blame game is no solution. Perhaps a little more cooperation among all the players will help advance the ball.


Anonymous said...

Superbly said.

Unknown said...

Ok, but isn't it also true that Mr. Singer's reform efforts have been very idealistic and rigid, and maybe haven't helped in the short term.

Shortly after taking over that job Mr Singer decided that only full-time public defenders had any business helping the accused, and fired all of the part-timers (or so it was reported in the paper).

While a full-time PD office may be an admirable long term goal, this certainly didn't help move forward any of the cases whose languishing you lament. It seems that some of the Judge's frustration is as justified as your own is.

BTW, I am a New Orleans resident and have Crimminal Court jury duty for the month of January, so I'm watching a slice of this closely at the moment.