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Mar. 20, 2024

Los Angeles should be ashamed on National Public Defender Day

Los Angeles County is failing to provide adequate legal defense for the accused due to high caseloads and staff shortages.

Garrett Miller

Deputy Public Defender and President , LA County Public Defender's Union

There was little to celebrate on National Public Defender Day. At least not in Los Angeles.

I’ve never seen my fellow public defenders more overwhelmed and dejected than I do now. Angelenos should be horrified that a pillar of their justice system, legal defense for the accused, is rotting.

As president of the Los Angeles County Public Defender’s Union, I’ve watched more than 50 attorneys leave over the past 12 months. No one can blame them for leaving when our caseloads are regularly twice the national standard.

Public defenders don’t take this job thinking that juggling massive caseloads is effective representation. But this is exactly what is being demanded of them while our office remains 70 attorneys short of being fully staffed. Without drastic changes, it won’t be surprising if we lose another 50 attorneys in the coming months.

The appointed leader of the Los Angeles Public Defender’s Office, Ricardo García, has refused to take the necessary actions to address this crisis.

As someone who is in the courtroom every day, I can tell you that the inability to properly staff public defense means that people’s constitutional rights are being regularly violated, despite our dedicated efforts. Los Angeles County, and ultimately Ricardo García, will have to answer for that.

Public Defender Day, also known as Gideon Day (March 18), is supposed to be a celebration of every American’s right to legal representation. It’s a sacred obligation that has a special significance in Los Angeles where the nation’s first public defender’s office was established. Sadly, there’s little to be proud of when it comes to the way public defense has been allowed to decay in Los Angeles. Shame on our leaders.


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