Commission told Legislature must fix rural criminal defense problems
For the Nevada Appeal
The Nevada Legislature, not the rural counties, must provide the money to fix the problem of a lack of qualified lawyers to defend indigent criminal defendants, a consultant told a state commission Friday.
The Nevada Right to Counsel Commission discussed ways to provide legal representation for low income criminal defendants in rural Nevada which have different systems. They range from having local public defenders’ offices to hiring private lawyers.
David Carroll, executive director of the Sixth Amendment, said it was a complicated system in providing defense lawyers in rural Nevada. And a number of counties have pulled out of the State’s Public Defender’s office to run their own system. His report says Carson City and Storey County use the state’s defender office.
Carroll will present his recommendations next week on the qualifications a defense lawyer must have and the compensation they’re entitled.
“It’s tough being a rural lawyer,” he said. “These private lawyers who represent indigent criminal defense defendants must also handle their other cases and they don’t have the training or resources to properly defend their clients.”
There was discussion of offering loans to lawyers who graduate from the UNLV law school to locate in rural Nevada. And the loan might be forgiven if the new attorney stayed in rural Nevada for a number of years. But there were cautions these new lawyers might not have the experience needed for defense work. And they might leave after they completed the time needed for loan forgiveness.
The 13-member commission, under the chairmanship of Supreme Court Justice Michael Cherry, is looking at establishing an independent state Board of Indigent Defense Services to set the qualifications of defense lawyers and require precise records of cases handled.
It would provide continuing education for these lawyers who are under contract with local government.
Carroll told the commission were a “lot of great attorneys” in rural Nevada but many are retiring. Many contract lawyers don’t have the resources such as investigators, medical examinations and clerical staff to handle indigent defendants and at the same time represent clients in civil matters. And the local governments don’t have the money to pay for these services.
“At the very least the state must ensure effective legal representation,” he said.
His study shows Clark and Washoe counties are “doing it right” with their public defenders’ offices.
This proposed board would have the authority to determine if minimum defense standards are being followed and court rules are being observed in the rurals.