An audit of Topeka Municipal Court questions whether defendants in the most serious cases before the court receive adequate legal counsel, reports the Topeka Capital-Journal. The report, conducted in July and obtained Wednesday by the paper, also says judges routinely depart from the state's manual for conducting arraignments, asking probing questions about cases during the plea process. Defendants meet court-appointed attorneys for the first time as they arrive in court, which “potentially undermines” their ability to understand charges or know their rights, the report says.
Calling this a “highly questionable” procedure, auditors said that this process benefits defense attorneys, not their clients. Kevin Cook, of Cook and Associates, the firm contracted by the court to represent defendants who can't afford an attorney, defended the practice. “We've done this for a very long time, day after day,” Cook said. The city’s chief of prosecution, Chuck Kitt, said, “You have to remember that these court-appointed defense attorneys do this all day, every day. They know what they're doing.”