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
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
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