Herbert weighing $5 million boost to public-defender system

Dec 23, 2018, 8:25 PM | Updated: 8:25 pm

OGDEN, Utah (AP) — Gov. Gary Herbert has proposed adding $5 million per year to fund public defenders in Utah, a move that advocates say would be a step toward fixing a system that can fall short for people who are accused of crimes but can’t afford their own lawyer.

The request comes after the state was sharply criticized in a 2015 report by the Sixth Amendment Center, which found it was one of just two states that left public-defender funding entirely up to local governments, leaving rural and poor counties struggling to pay, The Standard-Examiner reported. It also found most low-income people charged with misdemeanors in Utah never see a lawyer, and for felony charges, public defenders don’t have enough time to dedicate to each case.

The majority of people accused of crimes, about 80 percent, don’t have the disposable income to hire a private attorney and need a public defender, the ACLU has said.

After the Sixth Amendment report, the state created the Utah Indigent Defense Commission, which has since doled out a total of $5.2 million in grants to cities and counties through grants.

But there’s plenty of work left to do, said the commission’s executive director, Joanna Landau. The governor’s request is a “measured” improvement, but even if it’s approved by lawmakers Utah’s funding would still be relatively low compared to other states, she said.

“We worked hard with the governor to get that number,” Landau said. “We’re not asking for the stars. We’re asking for a stepping stone.”

Other states have been hit by lawsuits alleging they have violated people’s constitutional right to an attorney by underfunding the system to the point that public defenders are too overworked and underpaid to give people a serious defense.

Utah had faced a similar suit from the ALCU, but U.S. District Judge David Nuffer threw it out in March. He found the group had failed to show enough specific evidence of the problem.

Still, the commission created by the Legislature is looking into the issue, especially questions of whether public defenders have excessive case loads and if they’re able to fight effectively for a lower bail for their clients.

“You can’t know these things if you just meet someone for seven minutes and plead them out,” Landau said.

They’re also looking at whether public defenders are independent from local prosecutors and judges who control their funding.

“When (public defender) contracts are run through the prosecutor’s office you run the risk” of undue control, Landau said, adding that even if there’s no direct influence “there’s still an appearance of a lack of independence.”

Today’s Top Stories


A female bison and calf are seen near the Yellowstone River in Wyoming's Hayden Valley, on Wednesda...
Mark Jones

2nd visitor in 3 days gored by Yellowstone National Park bison

In less than a week, two visitors to Yellowstone National Park have been gored by bison. Park officials say to stay at least 25 yards away from a bison.
1 day ago
Travelers wait in for a TSA security check at the Los Angeles International Airport in Los Angeles,...

Pre-pandemic sized crowds descend on US airports for holiday

TSA is reporting crowds of pre-pandemic size are traveling this Independence Day.
1 day ago
Residents stand in front of building destroyed by missiles in Ukraine...
FRANCESCA EBEL Associated Press

Russian missiles kill at least 19 in Ukraine’s Odesa region

The Ukrainian president's office said three Kh-22 missiles fired by Russian bombers struck an apartment building and a campsite.
1 day ago
Ketanji Brown Jackson takes the oath for the Supreme Court....
MARK SHERMAN Associated Press

Jackson sworn in, becomes 1st Black woman on Supreme Court

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, 51, will be sworn as the court's 116th justice Thursday, just as the man she is replacing, Justice Stephen Breyer, retires.
2 days ago
The Supreme Court is pictured. The court just limited the EPA...
MARK SHERMAN Associated Press

Supreme Court limits EPA in curbing power plant emissions

The Supreme Court on Thursday limited how the nation's main anti-air pollution law can be used to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
2 days ago
President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference on the final day of the NATO summit in Madrid, ...

Biden says transatlantic alliance has adapted to new threats

Biden's comments came at a press conference in Madrid at the conclusion of the annual meeting of NATO leaders and after he attended a summit with the Group of Seven advanced democratic economies in the Bavarian Alps.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
Herbert weighing $5 million boost to public-defender system