The American Civil Liberties Union yesterday presented information to the Montana Legislature's Law and Justice Interim Committee about a report we released this fall on the Office of Public Defender.
In a nutshell, the report examines the statewide office after five years of operation and finds that, while a vast improvement over the previous nonexistent system, there are still some serious flaws in how indigent clients are being defended in Montana's courts.
One key problem is that public defenders' caseloads -- in some cases well over 100 open cases at any given time -- are too high. They simply don't have enough time to spend working on each case.
Another problem is that there is inadequate access to investigators and experts for cases.
Public Defender Commission Chairman Fritz Gillespie told the committee that he agreed with the recommendations in the ACLU's report. That commission oversees the public defender system.
While it's clear that some of the problems can be addressed with management and policy changes, others are likely to require more money be invested in the system.