CITIZENS ADVISORY COMMITTEE FOR THE
PUBLIC DEFENDER OFFICE
At the final meeting for the year December 15, 2002, Nominating Committee Chairperson Grace Tinsley presented a motion that Rauzelle Smith continue to serve as Chair, and Thomas von Hemert serve as Vice-Chair for 2003. Albie LaFave, Sentencing Advocate in the Public Defender Office, was appointed by James Hingeley, the Public Defender, to serve as Recorder for the Committee. Seven regular meetings and several sub-committee meetings were held during the year, with all meetings having been open to the public. Juandiago Wade, a member of the Albemarle-Charlottesville NAACP, was welcomed as our new appointee from the NAACP.
1. Committee members have remained committed to making themselves available to members of the community to provide them with information about the services provided by the Public Defender Office. We advocated for the support of “Prosecutors and Defenders Incentive Act (S. 1091)” via letters to Senators John Warner and George Allen. The Act would provide educational loan forgiveness for prosecutors and public defenders, significantly enhancing our community’s ability to recruit and retain qualified attorneys in these important public service positions. The bill was supported by the National Association of Prosecutors. Local Legislators were lobbied for support of HB 1570 for pretrial services and the drug court.
2. At the January 14, 2003 meeting the Committee voted to become a participating member of the Virginia Indigent Defense Coalition (VIDC). The VIDC does not fund direct services, instead focuses on policy reform. Our Committee’s inclusion will be documented support of the activities of the Coalition and will to the Coalition’s being a community-based citizen group.
3. Members of the Committee worked diligently with the assistance of the Public Defender to inform the local high schools of the celebration of the observance of the fortieth anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright . Principals at Monticello High School, Albemarle High School, Western Albemarle High School, Charlottesville High School, St. Anne’s Belfield School, The Covenant School and Tandem Friends School were contacted in regards to allowing a presentation to be done in a civic or government class.
4. At the February 25, 2003 meeting the Committed was informed it had been selected as one of eight programs in the country to participate in a two-year program designed by the Brennan Center for Justice to develop a Community-Oriented Defense Network. (COD) The project requires two members of our Committee to attend these functions over the next two years. Funding for these events have been arranged through a grant. The project has requested that participants develop an objective as to our community-oriented goal. The Committee voted unanimously to participate in the project.
The first meeting of the COD was held in Knoxville TN, April 27-28, 2003. Tom von Hermert and Albert Lafave represented the Committee. In Albert’s words he reported, “We appeared to be farther along than other programs in terms of making definite decision about the selection of their projects, and that our ambitions seemed relatively high compared to ideas other COD members presented.” Various workshops were held for members.
The second meeting of the COD was held September 17-20, 2003 in Scottsdale, AZ. Jim Hingeley and Juandiego Wade represented the Committee. A copy of the Committees’ article “A Leadership Initiative 2003” was sent to the Arizona Meeting in advance. It was so well received that the Director of the project brought it to her Board to demonstrate how the COD network concept is succeeding. The COD network group was particularly impressed by the partnership between our Office and the legal Aid Justice Center and was very complimentary of our work. The Committee credits Mr. Hingeley for his strong leadership.
5. For the second year the work of the Committee has received national recognition by Toby Fey at the Georgetown Law School. All governing documents created by the Committee were entered into a website, thereby making them available to others.
Besty Edwards Director of the Virginia Indigent Defense Coalition
Alex Gulotta Legal Aid Justice Center (Guest Speaker March 17, 2003)
UVA Law Students: Jessica Shapiro (2nd year)
Jean Marie Hackett (3rd year)
Saijung Lee (2nd year)
Scott Commerson (3rd year)
Dr. Barbara Haskins, Associate Professor of Neuropsychiatry (UVA)
Psychiatrist, Western State Hospital
The committee applauds Mr. Hingeley for continued successful operation of the office with limited financial resources, and his participation and leadership in the following organizations.
· Attendance at the Virginia State Bar Annual Meeting (June 20, 2003)
· Member of the Board of Directors of the Virginia Women Attorneys
· Presentation to the American bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent
· Participation in the Indigent Defense Study Committee (Virginia State Crime Commission)
· Presentations at local schools in the celebration “Commemorating Gideon at 40”.
· Article published in the CHAMPION, The National Association of Criminal defense Lawyers “ Gideon Belongs to the Community in Virginia”. Prior to Gideon v Wainwright, indigent person accused of crime could be sent to prison without representation by a lawyer. Following the decision issued on March 18, 1963 all accused persons were guaranteed counsel.
· Attendance at two Town Hall Meetings sponsored by the Judicial Council of Virginia, an arm of the Supreme Court.
· Mr. Hingeley was selected as a member of the “Distinguished Dozen” an honor bestowed upon community leaders for outstanding community service.
Issues and Concerns
Our Committee remains concerned over the reality:
· Lower salaries are paid to public defender lawyers versus those paid to lawyers serving in the Commonwealth Attorney’s Offices or working in the private sector. We know lower salaries make it difficult to recruit and retain quality staff. In many instances, lawyers trained in the Public Defender office moves on to accept higher-paying positions with Commonwealth Attorneys’ Offices and the private sector.
· Public Defender Offices, offer extensive training to individuals, ultimately losing these individuals to other offices. Budget submissions for years 2003-2004 do not provide funding to address and alleviate these funding disparities.
· Virginia Still ranks, “Almost last among the 50 states with regard to fees allowed per charge.
· No performance standards administered by an independent authority to determine a lawyer qualification before being appointed by a judge.
· Educational debt is a significant barrier for lawyers interested in public service careers.
· One analysis indicates that members of the law school class of 2000 graduated with an average of $77,000.00 in school loans, with some lawyers making monthly loan payments of $1,000 - $1,500 in 2002, the average public interest legal job paid only $34,000.00.
· The current political philosophy to cut funding from relatively costly hospital treatment programs with the rationale of treating the mentally ill in the community.
· Only half of the jurisdictions in Virginia have public defender offices, when studies bare out the fact that Public Defender Offices are more cost effective.
Citizens Advisory Committee
Rauzelle J. Smith, Chair
January 31, 2004
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