June 06, 2017

ABA urges New Mexico Supreme Court to remedy excessive public defender caseloads

CHICAGO, June 6, 2017 — The American Bar Association filed an amicus brief Monday asking the New Mexico Supreme Court to grant relief in a case involving public defenders in Lea County, who say excessive caseloads are affecting their ability to provide effective assistance of counsel.

The ABA brief was filed in support of the Law Office of the Public Defender in Lea County, which has asserted that heavy caseloads are preventing its attorneys from providing all clients with the competent and diligent representation required by the New Mexico Rules of Professional Conduct and articulated by ABA professional standards. The office handles indigent defenders in criminal cases.

The ABA brief also cites the ABA’s Defense Function Standards, ABA Model Rule 1.3 and a 2007 workload assessment study in New Mexico as underscoring the problem that “workloads of New Mexico public defenders were excessive.” It cited recent ABA studies in Missouri and Louisiana as providing strong guidelines, and asked the New Mexico high court to adopt a standard based on “careful analysis” and tested methodology to determine appropriate caseloads.

“The [public defender] determined that its attorneys in Lea County had excessive caseloads and … had no internal way of reallocating cases to fix the problem,” the ABA brief said, before suggesting that the New Mexico high court “take note of recent innovations in workload standards.”

The court, the brief continued, should either defer to the public defender or “employ a methodology that takes into account the conditions and specific case types in the jurisdiction, as well as the ethical and practice standards that are designed to ensure compliance with Constitutional norms, and relies upon the expertise of defense lawyers in establishing the time needed to provide effective assistance of counsel.”

The ABA amicus brief in State of New Mexico, ex rel Bennett J. Baur and Charles Lopez v The Honorable William G. W. Shoobridge can be found here.


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