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Wednesday, 02 March 2022 10:24

John A. Birdsall Featured in Coverage of Public Defender Crisis

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Americans have the right to a speedy trial, but a shortage of public defenders is resulting in excessive jail stays for defendants who are unable to come up with the cash for bail.

As reported by the Wisconsin Rapids Tribune, “Nhja Lee, 45, of Green Bay, spent more than 100 days in jail on $25,000 bail in 2018 while the Wisconsin Public Defender’s Office tried to get a private attorney to represent him.”

He is just one of hundreds of inmates throughout Wisconsin who are unable to pay cash bail and are stuck waiting for a public defender. Lee’s predicament has resulted in a case going before the Wisconsin Supreme Court to determine whether there is “cause” to waive the 10 day limit between a defendant’s initial appearance and preliminary hearing when held on more than $500 bail. 

The following excerpt of the article features comments from attorney John A. Birdsall, who believes the situation is not only untenable, it is unacceptable. 

"The situation is rapidly deteriorating as an unacceptable number of persons who are charged with crimes, but have been neither tried nor convicted, are without lawyers for weeks and months at a time," Birdsall said. "As they await a lawyer, their cases go uninvestigated and unresolved, undermining the prospect of fair and just outcomes being achieved for either the accused or the victims."

"State officials created the Wisconsin Public Defender's Office to provide competent lawyers to those who couldn't afford them," Birdsall said.

"However, the structural defects of the system as it currently exists, including inadequate compensation offered to court-appointed counsel, has resulted in many individuals being in legal limbo as the state public defender is simply unable to find attorneys to take the cases," Birdsall said.

"The extent of the problem is unknown to anyone including trial judges, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the legislature or the public," Birdsall said. "None of them have access to information that would details how many people in Wisconsin are waiting for lawyers or how long they have been waiting," he said. 

"For some reason that are unknown, the (state Public Defender's Office) has not provided any specific information about the extent of the problem or the ways in which they intend to resolve it," Birdsall said. 

"Wisconsin's indigent defendants need some effort by legislators, governor, courts or lawyers that will ensure the state meets its constitutional obligations to all its citizens," Birdsall said. 

"At stake are people's freedom, public safety and the community's ability to have faith in its government institutions," Birdsall said.

"The situation is rapidly deteriorating as an unacceptable number of persons who are charged with crimes, but have been neither tried nor convicted, are without lawyers for weeks and months at a time," Birdsall said. "As they await a lawyer, their cases go uninvestigated and unresolved, undermining the prospect of fair and just outcomes being achieved for either the accused or the victims."

"State officials created the Wisconsin Public Defender's Office to provide competent lawyers to those who couldn't afford them," Birdsall said.

"However, the structural defects of the system as it currently exists, including inadequate compensation offered to court-appointed counsel, has resulted in many individuals being in legal limbo as the state public defender is simply unable to find attorneys to take the cases," Birdsall said.

"The extent of the problem is unknown to anyone including trial judges, the Wisconsin Supreme Court, the legislature or the public," Birdsall said. "None of them have access to information that would details how many people in Wisconsin are waiting for lawyers or how long they have been waiting," he said. 

"For some reasons that are unknown, the (state Public Defender's Office) has not provided any specific information about the extent of the problem or the ways in which they intend to resolve it," Birdsall said. 

"Wisconsin's indigent defendants need some effort by legislators, governor, courts or lawyers that will ensure the state meets its constitutional obligations to all its citizens," Birdsall said. 

"At stake are people's freedom, public safety and the community's ability to have faith in its government institutions," Birdsall said.

Read the full Wisconsin Rapids Tribune article here.

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