Yesterday, several Montana legislators marked the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gideon v. Wainwright by committing to working for more funding for Montana's Office of the Public Defender.
One of those legislators, Sen. Mitch Tropila (D-Great Falls) said that when we see an injustice we have an obligation to correct it.
"What was the promise of Gideon? That defense would stand on equal footing with prosecutors and that justice would prevail," Tropila said.
"The Office of the Public Defender is suffocating under present caseloads. We're not talking about just about more lawyers here. We are talking about resource persons. Lawyers answering phones to explain frequently asked questions is a waste of money.
"Let us level the playing field between prosecution and defense and support increases in personnel and funding in the OPD budget."
Montana's public defenders routinely carry caseloads well in excess of American Bar Association guidelines. They don't have enough access to investigators or expert witnesses.
It's not just defendants who suffer under these conditions. The entire court system gets bogged down in delays, costing prosecutors, law enforcement and the judges time and money.
It's time to fix the system.