Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Cook County Public Defender's Office by MacArthur Justice Center

Suit Alleges Failure to Adequately Represent Indigent Clients

Feb 27, 2001, 00:00 ET from MacArthur Justice Center

    CHICAGO, Feb. 27 /PRNewswire/ -- The appellate division of the Cook County
 Public Defender's Office is failing to adequately represent its clients by
 filing motions to withdraw and abandoning nearly half of its indigent clients,
 alleges a lawsuit filed today.  The class action lawsuit was filed by the
 MacArthur Justice Center and the Roger Baldwin Foundation of the American
 Civil Liberties Union of Illinois on behalf of clients of the Public Defender
 and alleges that the office files motions to withdraw from appeals -- even
 when the cases have arguable merit -- to reduce case backlog and workload for
 Assistant Public Defenders working on appeals.
     Attorneys traditionally file motions to withdraw from representing an
 indigent criminal appellant (known as "Anders motions") when the appeal is
 "wholly frivolous."  The lawsuit alleges that the Cook County Public
 Defender's office has filed Anders briefs in 49 percent of its cases in the
 most recent 19 months for which data is available.  This is more than eight
 times the rate of similar filings in New York (six percent).
     "The indigent clients of the Public Defender's office deserve a lawyer
 committed to handling their appeals," said Locke Bowman, Legal Director of the
 MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Chicago Law School.  "Anders
 briefs should not be used simply because there is a case backlog or staffing
     "The United States Supreme Court long ago established the right of
 defendants, except in the rarest of cases, to have their cases fully briefed
 on appeal," said Harvey Grossman, Legal Director for the ACLU of Illinois.
 "Given the number of reversals of trial court decisions on appeal in Illinois,
 it is astounding that almost one half of all the Cook County Public Defender's
 appellants are not afforded their right to a full and complete review of their
 trial court convictions."
     The named plaintiff in the suit, Anthony Jefferson, had an Anders brief
 filed on his behalf by the Public Defender's office.  Jefferson was given
 consecutive sentences in a murder and home invasion case based on findings
 first made by a judge after his trial, despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court
 ruling abolishing the practice.
     "Anders briefs are intended to be used in cases where there are no legal
 arguments to be made on behalf of one's client," said Bowman.  "In Jefferson's
 case, clear legal arguments were available, but were ignored by the Public
 Defender's office."
     The lawsuit argues that the Public Defender's staff shortage combined with
 excessive appointments have led to the office's failure to adequately
 represent its clients.  The suit contends that the Public Defender files
 Anders motions as a way to reduce its backlog of appeals.  The Public Defender
 views Anders motions as a simple, quick way to dispose of unwanted cases, the
 suit contends.
     The MacArthur Justice Center is a non-profit public interest law firm
 affiliated with the University of Chicago Law School.  It was founded in 1985
 by the J. Roderick MacArthur Foundation to fight for human rights and social
 justice through litigation.  The center concentrates on cases that raise
 constitutional or significant issues in the field of criminal justice.

SOURCE MacArthur Justice Center