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THE STATE

A New County Cost-Cutting Gimmick: Justice on the Cheap

July 26, 1998|Charles L. Lindner | Charles L. Lindner is past president of the Los Angeles Criminal Bar Assn

It used to be that the judiciary shielded defense lawyers from legislative attempts to savage their pay. Because defense lawyers have no political constituency, it was the judiciary's duty to protect them, so that the defenders could, in turn, protect their clients. But politics and a diminishing government interest in preserving due process have changed all that. A judge is seldom recognized by his or her peers for scholarship, insight, reflection, wisdom or courage. Instead, state judges use statistics to assess the work of other judges. How big is your backlog? How many cases did you clear this month? Whether an outcome is fair, just, equitable or legal is a secondary consideration to the almighty monthly stat sheet issued by the presiding judge.

The right of an accused poor person to a state-appointed lawyer was decided by the Supreme Court in 1963, in Gideon vs. Wainwright. Asked by Florida to file a friend-of-the-court brief denouncing this expense, California responded by filing a brief on behalf of Clarence Earl Gideon. California, you see, has provided "free" state-paid lawyers for poor persons accused of crimes since 1915.

What Yaroslavsky and his colleagues have failed to understand is the difference between trimming governmental fat and cutting out its heart.

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