Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly, alarmed by Monday’s pretrial release of three drug defendants in Springfield, sharply criticized both the Supreme Judicial Court and the Committee for Public Counsel Services yesterday for “going too far, too quickly” in addressing the state’s public defender crisis, reports the Boston Globe. Calling a $7.50 hourly pay increase by the Legislature too meager, hundreds of private lawyers are refusing to take court appointed cases for poor criminal defendants, which many have refused to take for months. The 2,500 or so private lawyers who take such cases are among the lowest-paid in the nation.
In a case brought by public defenders in Hampden County, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that defendants could not be jailed for more than seven days without a lawyer and that charges could be dismissed if they still had no lawyer after 45 days. After the first three defendants were ordered released without bail Monday, Reilly said that the court was ignoring less severe remedies. Reilly said the court “should not have allowed the situation to escalate to the point where public safety is being threatened.” William Leahy of the Committee on Public Counsel Services, said of Reilly’s office: “They have had nothing but criticism. For them to be involved in Monday morning quarterbacking after being in the Sunday game is profoundly disappointing.”