Yet between January 2003 and September 2004, the Virginia Court of Appeals dismissed at least 60 criminal appeals because of missed filing deadlines by public defenders’ offices, reports the Washington Post. In fiscal 2004, 7 percent of the appellate caseload in public defenders’ offices was thrown out because of purported errors. This is unacceptable in a society whose constitution guarantees the right to effective assistance of counsel, the newspaper says in an editorial.
Public defenders work under immense pressure and carry outrageous caseloads over which they have little control, says the Post. The state has not given them modern computer equipment or support staff. Richard Goemann, executive director of the Indigent Defense Commission — which oversees public defenders’ offices — says that not all the missed appeals result from errors by public defenders. Management reforms will not be enough, the Post concludes, saying that the problem will persist as long as attorneys are forced to carry caseloads dramatically in excess of national standards. The paper calls on the state legislature, Gov. Mark R. Warner, and Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore to obtain more funds for a “public-defense system that fails its clients so often.”