Class Action Lawsuit Filed Against Cook County Public Defender's Office by MacArthur Justice Center
Suit Alleges Failure to Adequately Represent Indigent Clients
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 shortages." "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
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