STAFF SUMMARY OF MEETING
COMMITTEE ON JOINT JUDICIARY
|Time:||01:31 PM to 03:08 PM|
|This Meeting was called to order by|
|This Report was prepared by|
X = Present, E = Excused, A = Absent, * = Present after roll call
|Bills Addressed: ||Action Taken:|
|Office of the Child's Representative Briefing|
Alternate Defense Counsel Briefing
State Public Defender Briefing
01:32 PM -- Office of the Child's Representative Briefing
Theresa Spahn, Executive Director, Office of the Child's Representative (OCR), distributed three handouts to the committees (Attachments A, B, and C). Ms. Spahn introduced her staff and explained what the OCR does. The OCR is mandated to represent the best interest of all children in the Colorado court system by overseeing the attorney services provided by guardians ad litem (GALs). There are approximately 250 attorneys in Colorado who provide GAL services to the courts. The agency spends 96 percent of its budget each year directly on attorney services for children, with only 4 percent spent on administrative costs. Ms. Spahn explained how the OCR was created in 2001 and the changes to the office since that time. She talked about SB 09-048, which removes the annual audit requirement from the OCR, as recommended by the Office of the State Auditor. She stressed that the auditor has issued no findings on the OCR fiscal activities over the last three years. Removing the audit provision from law is cost effective for the state.
Ms. Spahn introduced, Mahna Salter, a contract attorney with the OCR. Ms. Salter shared a story of a child she represented during the course of her duties. The young man entered the system when he was six-years-old and has committed several criminal offenses in since that time. He has been in treatment for violent behavior and has been in a number of group home situations. Ms. Salter took the time to help the young man reconnect with his mother, whom he had no seen in nine years. She believes this will be a key component in helping him find a way to better manage his anger and criminal tendencies. She indicated that she respects the work done by child services case workers, but feels they are overloaded and unable to give each child the attention they need.
Ms. Spahn stressed that OCR attorneys are always willing to answer questions from the legislature. She shared information about her background as a judge and a district attorney and stated that she looks forward to working with the Judiciary Committees to protect the interests of children. She responded to questions from the committee about a pilot program in the 4th Judicial District to establish public defender model offices for the OCR. The program is no longer a pilot and is currently functioning well in that district. There are currently no plans to expand that model to other districts, due to the costs of maintaining a full staff in each office.
01:55 PM -- Office of Alternate Defense Counsel Briefing
Lindy Frolich, Director, Office of Alternate Defense Counsel (OADC) , introduced Bert Nieslanik, her deputy director. Ms. Frolich distributed an information packet to the committee (Attachment D). She explained that the OADC provides legal services to indigent persons who are accused of crimes in situations where the public defender has a conflict. The Office of the State Auditor conducted statewide performance audits on the OADC in 2003 and 2006, which have helped make the office function more efficiently. Ms. Frolich discussed post-conviction cases handled by the OADC. Post-conviction cases generally come to her office when a defendant is accusing the public defender of ineffective assistance of counsel. In those cases, the Office of the State Public Defender has a conflict of interest and OADC steps in to handle the appellate work.
Ms. Frolich pointed out that the OADC must take every case assigned to it and mentioned that her office constantly tries to find more efficient methods for handling cases. She talked about training, communication, evaluation, streamlining discovery reproduction procedures, and new technology. The OADC contracts with approximately 400 private criminal defense lawyers who work in ever judicial district at a designated state rate.
Ms. Frolich stated that the biggest cost factor for the OADC is the death penalty. The OADC is currently representing three defendants in death penalty cases. Ms. Frolich responded to questions from the committee about the charges for reproducing discovery. Charges are not standard from district to district. Discovery costs average approximately $350,000 per year. The OADC and the State Public Defender often do joint training in order to share resources.
02:15 PM -- Office of the State Public Defender Briefing
Doug Wilson, Office of the State Public Defender (OSPD), distributed an handout and introduced his office (Attachment E). The OSPD is appointed by the court to represent indigent persons charged with crimes where there is a possibility of being jailed or imprisoned. Mr. Wilson stated that the OSPD is approximately 40 percent understaffed, given the number of cases it is assigned. It handles approximately 71 percent of the felony cases in the state and it receives 39 percent of the funding of the state district attorneys offices. He provided a short explanation of the Rothgery v. Gillespie County case, in which the United States Supreme Court held that a criminal defendant’s initial appearance before a magistrate or judge, where he learns the charge against him and his liberty is subject to restriction, marks the initiation of proceedings that trigger attachment of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. This requires the court to appoint counsel to indigent defendants prior to their first appearance before a judge, which Colorado does for felony cases, but not misdemeanor cases. Mr. Wilson expressed his concern that the state will eventually be sued for not providing adequate counsel under Rothgery. He drew the committee's attention to the briefing document, which contains a letter to the Joint Budget Committee outlining some changes that could be made to existing statute in order to bring the state into compliance with Rothgery.
Mr. Wilson responded to questions from the committee about understaffing in the OSPD. The committee discussed the training of new public defenders, especially in rural areas. The training is established and set at the state level and all new hires receive the same level of training prior to being placed in an office. All public defenders receive mandatory core training after being placed in an office. Mr. Wilson responded to a question regarding the ethical dilemmas posed by high caseload burdens. The committee discussed the possibilities of having grievances filed as a result of those potential ethical violations.
The committee discussed the cost of discovery reproduction and transcripts of proceedings.
Senator Morse adjourned the meeting of the Joint Judiciary Committees and announced that the House Judiciary Committee would meet immediately.