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Hogan & Hartson (22)


Attorneys working for the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office face an all-too-familiar problem: diminishing budget and increasing workload. But, with help from Hogan & Hartson’s Miami office, they have chosen an unusual way to try to solve this problem.

Am Law Pro Bono 100In June 2008 the Miami-Dade public defender filed a lawsuit seeking to have other counsel appointed in future non-capital cases. Representing the public defender in this uncommon response to tightening government budgets was a team of lawyers from Hogan’s Miami office led by Parker Thomson.

“We think this is an important issue, one of constitutional importance,” says Alvin Lindsay, another Hogan partner involved in the case. Lindsay adds, “The Miami-Dade Public Defender’s office is being inundated with cases and the attorneys there are unable to provide effective representation.”

The public defender’s office argues that its heavy caseloads deny clients their constitutional rights to effective counsel. The complaint also alleges that excessive workloads produce conflicts of interest, with attorneys forced to choose between clients, and, as a result, violate the Florida Bar’s ethical rules. The office’s 105 attorneys who handle non-capital cases carry loads that average 387 cases, according to the initial complaint.

After a two-day hearing, the trial judge agreed with key assertions made by the public defender, concluding that “caseloads are excessive by any reasonable standard.” The ruling granted the public defender the right to decline future appointment of class C felonies, which include, among other alleged offenses, cocaine possession, grand theft auto, and burglary of any unoccupied building.

But the trial court’s decision was stayed, and in May, overturned by the Florida Third District Court of Appeal.

“There is insufficient evidence to support such a drastic remedy,” the appeals court wrote. “With an ever-increasing quantity of cases and tight budget, their important task is certainly made more difficult. The office-wide solution to the problem, however, lies with the legislature or internal administration of [the public defender's office], not with the court.”

Lindsay and the team at Hogan disagree and are appealing.

—Drew Combs | July 1, 2009

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