Public Public Defenders Need a Nap and a Joint (Not Necessarily in That Order)

Categories: News

If you think budget cuts at your job suck (New Times is a considering a writing-by-candlelight, tent-office setup) try being a Miami-Dade public defender. Thanks to shrinking state court funds  - down in 44 million in the past two years -  these burnt-out servants of the poor, tired, huddled masses are crunching about 500 cases each at any given moment. (Four times as many as Broward PDs.)

With a 16 percent caseload increase in the past eight months, crime is going up as lawyers are dropping out. So it doesn't go over well when the opposition starts offering a few friendly penny-pinching pointers for the new year.

In a Christmas day Miami Herald article, State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle scoffed at what Miami-Dade Public Defender Bennett Brummer characterized as "a crisis" that had "reached its breaking point." Rundle's suggestion:  Stop spending so much time defending misdemeanor cases. She added, "We've all had to deal with budget cuts."

Affronted attorneys then came up a little lesson on frugality for the prosecutor herself: Quit asking for jail on silly marijuana charges and petty theft. Says courthouse blogger and justice system watchdog Rumpole: "The reality is that outside of repeat DUI convictions, there are almost no misdemeanor cases that result in jail. However, the SAO strings everyone along, kowtowing to cops or complaining witnesses on ridiculous cases."

Indeed, for all the heinous and weird crime Miami-Dade endures, 50 percent the cases public defenders handle are misdemeanors. The small-time stuff ends up weighing on the already time-strapped pack of litigators. Adds Brummer: "I expect it to get much worse very rapidly."  Riptide would offer a joint to ease the stress, but we hear county jail blows, and bail bonds totally aren't in our budget this year.

--Natalie O'Neill

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