Contract public defenders in Utah

Outside of the metro areas “up north” Southern Utah Counties pay individual attorneys a flat annual rate to take all public defender cases assigned to them, the rate is around $73,000 per contract with no office, no phone, no 401k, no secretary, about $6,000 per month steady, the check always clears.

I ran into a public defender in Cedar District, who also has a public defender contract in St. George District Court. Each assigns over 200 felony level (and Class A misdemeanor) cases per contract per year and at a minimum, each contract requires spending one full day per week in that Judge’s courtroom, on that Judge's cases assigned to you.

So this PD now spends all day Monday in Cedar, all day Thursday in St. George, collects around $150,000 per year for both contracts and is supposed to represent 400 major criminal cases, in courtrooms 60 miles apart.

If you don't spend anything on expenses, no secretary, cheap office location, etc. you will almost make as much as I do, servicing about 90 new clients per year, after expenses. But you are supposed to be "representing" all 400 of your clients, so how do you do it?

You don't. The main complaint about all contract public defenders is not returning calls or messages, not providing copies of the reports or videos, and just not doing anything. Most contract defenders with ONE CONTRACT are overworked and underpaid, and not given help with office, phone, staff, etc.

But this is the current business model, stack 'em deep. And you are encouraged to take on private cases on top of this workload, and charge them full price, and then what? pay attention to them because they pay and not the ones who don't pay?

There is no way, no how, one attorney can provide adequate, let alone zealous, representation with TWO such contracts, but our Indigent Defense Commission was created impotent from the start, so horrible stuff like this can continue to happen, and counties can get by on the cheap for a CONSTIUTIONAL obligation. Until a court makes them do it differently, this is how it's done.

He is not alone. Another St. George District PD contract has a justice court contract which is around 500 misdemeanor cases per year on top oTHEY are not alone, some law firms collect public defender contracts all over the state, four or five contracts means a guaranteed paycheck every month. The clients? Widgets in a Socratic question.

So here’s the sticker shock: if you have a public defender, it’s free. If you hire me, you pay $400 an hour, I keep track of my time and yes, you pay me a minimum of forty bucks to answer your phone call. But I answer your calls, return your messages, explain your rights, show you the evidence, meet with you and resolve all of your questions before we stand in front of the judge. And it costs a lot of money. Sorry, we have a less than perfect system, and money talks.

But surprise! It’s not that expensive, you get to see exactly what work I did, when I did it, how much time it took, so you only pay for actual work, and not empty promises.