07-15-2020  6:58 pm   •   PDX and SEA Weather
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NORTHWEST NEWS

I-5 Expansion Loses Support of Albina Vision, City

Gov. Brown says project must have support of local Black community 

Justice Department to Investigate Portland Protest Shooting

Donavan LaBella was standing with both arms in the air holding a large speaker across the street from the courthouse when a federal officer fired a less-lethal round at his head

Seattle Mayor, City Council at Odds Over 50% Police Cut

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says the City Council has failed to speak with the police chief or conduct sufficient research

OSU, UO Among 20 Universities Filing Federal Lawsuit in Oregon Over International Student Order

The lawsuit, filed today, seeks to protect the educational status of nearly 3,500 students attending OSU

NEWS BRIEFS

Schultz Family Foundation Appoints Tyra Mariani as New President

The Schultz Family Foundation is founded by former Starbucks CEO and chairman emeritus Howard Schultz and his wife Sheri Schultz ...

Meyer Memorial Trust Announces $25 Million For Justice Oregon For Black Lives

Meyer awards initial grants totaling nearly jumi.3 million. ...

Secretary of State Bev Clarno Announces Extension of Signature Gathering for Initiative Petition 57

IP 57 is seeking to amend the Oregon Constitution to create an independent redistricting commission. ...

NNPA Livestreams With Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Val Demings

The audience has an opportunity to be an interactive part of the interview ...

Black Women Often Ignored By Social Justice Movements

‘Intersectional invisibility’ may lead to Black women’s exclusion, study finds ...

Man, 67, dies after dispute with neighbor over in change

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A 67-year-old Portland man has died after being hit in the head with a pistol by a neighbor who was mad the man had called him “cheap," according to authorities and court documents.Damian Lucas, 36, is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Jeffrey...

Oregon AG appeals federal judge's order on redistricting bid

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon's attorney general announced Wednesday she is fighting a federal judge's order for Oregon to give more leeway to a group that seeks to change how the state carves up its electoral districts.U.S. District Judge Michael McShane said in his order Monday that the...

Missouri's Drinkwitz takes side in mask-or-no-mask debate

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) — Eli Drinkwitz has been the head coach at Missouri for just over seven months. He has yet to lead the Tigers onto the football field, much less win a game, yet his role in the community already has forced him to take some important stands.First, it was supporting his new...

Iowa defensive back Jack Koerner hurt in jet ski accident

IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — Iowa defensive back Jack Koerner sustained serious injuries when he and a passenger on a jet ski collided with a boat on the Lake of the Ozarks in Missouri.According to a police report, Koerner and Cole Coffin were hurt at about 6:30 p.m. Friday when their watercraft...

OPINION

Heeding the Cries for Justice: Justice Oregon for Black Lives

Meyer trustees call on philanthropy peers and partners in business and industry to support this movement ...

COMMENTARY: Real Table Talk

Chaplain Debbie Walker provides helpful insight for self-preservation, and care tips for your family, your neighbors, and your community circles ...

Commissioner Hardesty Responds To Federal Troop Actions Towards Protesters

This protester is still fighting for their life and I want to be clear: this should never have happened. ...

Recent Protests Show Need For More Government Collective Bargaining Transparency

Since taxpayers are ultimately responsible for funding government union contract agreements, they should be allowed to monitor the negotiation process ...

AFRICAN AMERICANS IN THE NEWS

Jewish leaders condemn 'hurtful' words by Nick Cannon

The Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish leaders on Wednesday condemned what they called “hurtful words” and anti-Semitic theories expressed by Nick Cannon, a day after ViacomCBS severed ties with him for the remarks made on a podcast. And after the TV host and producer wrote a...

Ex-officer in Hawaii sentenced for making man lick urinal

HONOLULU (AP) — A U.S. judge sentenced a former Honolulu police officer Wednesday to four years in prison for forcing a homeless man to lick a public urinal, telling him to imagine someone doing that to his two young daughters. The homeless man was just as defenseless and powerless as the...

Floyd family sues Minneapolis officers charged in his death

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — George Floyd's family filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the city of Minneapolis and the four police officers charged in his death, alleging the officers violated Floyd's rights when they restrained him and that the city allowed a culture of excessive force, racism and...

ENTERTAINMENT

2021 Rose Parade canceled due to coronavirus pandemic

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — The 2021 Rose Parade has been canceled because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on planning for the New Year’s Day tradition and the risk of spreading infections among its huge audience and participants, organizers said Wednesday.The Pasadena,...

'Magic School Bus' author Joanna Cole dies at age 75

NEW YORK (AP) — Author Joanna Cole, whose “Magic School Bus” books transported millions of young people on extraordinary and educational adventures, has died at age 75. Scholastic announced that Cole, a resident of Sioux City, Iowa, died Sunday. The cause was idiopathic...

DC's plan for 'Watchmen' sequel 'Rorschach' met with unease

LOS ANGELES (AP) — DC is releasing a new “Watchmen” spin off based on the Rorschach character, but the unveiling of the limited comic series has been met with mixed reactions.Some critics online questioned whether the masked vigilante should be the primary focus after DC...

U.S. & WORLD NEWS

Jewish leaders condemn 'hurtful' words by Nick Cannon

The Anti-Defamation League and other Jewish leaders on Wednesday condemned what they called “hurtful...

Biden, Gates, other Twitter accounts hacked in Bitcoin scam

Unidentified hackers broke into the Twitter accounts of technology moguls, politicians, celebrities and major...

Climate change makes freak Siberian heat 600 times likelier

Nearly impossible without man-made global warming, this year’s freak Siberian heat wave is producing...

Tanker off UAE sought by US over Iran sanctions 'hijacked'

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An oil tanker sought by the U.S. over allegedly circumventing sanctions...

Man blamed for nearly half Sri Lanka virus cases speaks out

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — For months he’s been anonymous, but now Prasad Dinesh, linked by Sri...

Pro-Western party claims victory in North Macedonia election

SKOPJE, North Macedonia (AP) — A suspected hacking attack caused the site of North Macedonia’s...

McMenamins
Kat Aaron Investigative Reporting Workshop

Fifty years ago, an eloquent drifter from Florida changed the American justice system. Clarence Earl Gideon, accused of breaking into a pool hall, was tried without a lawyer in Bay County, Florida, in 1961. Convicted after representing himself, he petitioned the Supreme Court for a new hearing and ultimately won not just his own freedom but a new right for all criminal defendants: the right to counsel. It's thanks to Gideon and his case that if a defendant cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided.

More than 12 million people were arrested in America in 2011. Most of them were charged with a crime and many were poor, qualifying for a public defender. The American Council of Chief Defenders suggests that each public defender handle no more than 400 misdemeanors or 150 felonies per year; many carry caseloads two to three times those guidelines, and some much more than that. There are simply far, far more poor people needing lawyers than there are public lawyers to represent them. Despite the Supreme Court's ruling in Gideon v. Wainwright, adequate counsel for poor Americans is far from guaranteed.

Detroit's 36th District Court handles about half a million misdemeanor cases a year. Most of those defendants will be represented by a publicly funded attorney, and most will exchange few words with the person who is officially their lawyer. In Wayne County, which encompasses Detroit, there are both traditional public defenders, whose full-time job is representing the indigent, and appointed counsel, lawyers named by the judge to represent all needy defendants in court that week.

Traffic cases make up a lot of the court docket on any given day. People drive everywhere in the Motor City, and they drive without licenses, without insurance and without the ability to pass a breath test. The judge will call the names of everyone with a drunk driving charge, say, and they all line up in front of the dais. The court-appointed counsel will explain to the group that they're all going to pay a fine and may have to do community service. There's no apparent opportunity to have an individual conversation, to contest the charge or explain the individual circumstances of the arrest. There's no clear warning that these people are taking a plea deal, no hint that they are pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge that will stay on their record forever.

The courtrooms at the 36th District are, technically, fulfilling their constitutional mandate to provide counsel to people who can't afford it. That the representation does not typically involve any meaningful interaction between defendant and attorney is standard, in Michigan and many states. The Gideon decision didn't spell out how states should go about providing indigent defense. Michigan wound up with a hodgepodge of systems: some public defender offices, some appointed counsel and some flat-fee contracts. In a flat-fee contract model, attorneys bid to represent all comers in a given courthouse for the year, and the lowest bid wins. The system incentivizes lawyers to spend as little time with each defendant as possible; the more clients they have, the less they earn per case. The appointed counsel model also has its critics, who say that lawyers may be quick to push a plea or may hesitate to request a trial, for fear of angering a busy judge and losing future appointments.

Michigan is one of just seven states that provide almost no state funding for trial-level indigent defense, leaving the counties holding that particular fiscal bag. County income derives mainly from property taxes, and property values in Michigan have been in free fall for years. Per capita spending on indigent defense is not regularly tracked, but in 2012, Michigan spent just $7.38, ranking the state among the lowest in the nation. Simply put, "Michigan fails to provide competent representation to those who cannot afford counsel in its criminal courts," according to a 2008 report by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.

The indigent defense system in Michigan is so ill-funded, and so overburdened, that the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan sued the state. The case, Duncan v. Granholm, was a class action representing defendants facing felonies in three Michigan counties, where, according to the suit, the state has failed to meet the requirements of Gideon. It was filed in 2007, and for six years, the state tried to stop the case from proceeding. In April, the ACLU won yet another decision from the state court of appeals, allowing the case to move forward.

The suit sought to "prove what everybody knows, which is that the criminal defense system is broken for poor people in Michigan," said Michael Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan.

As the suit wound its way through the courts, the state government was assessing the problem. Gov. Rick Snyder named an Indigent Defense Advisory Commission in 2011, and the group released a set of recommendations last summer. Legislation to improve the system was introduced in April 2013 and was signed into law (http://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2013-2014/publicact/pdf/2013-PA-0093.pdf) in July.

The law establishes a permanent commission, which will create minimum standards for public defense, including allowing defenders to control their caseloads. The law also provides funds to counties that aren't able to meet the standards alone. And because the law should remedy the crises that sparked the ACLU's suit, the group has voluntarily dismissed its case. The changes won't go into effect immediately, though. The courts won't see the impact for another two years, estimates Marcela Westrate of the Michigan Campaign for Justice, a coalition that backed the bill.

The law is a big step, but implementation of the new standards is contingent "upon the appropriation of sufficient funds," according to the bill. Michigan's economy is climbing out of the basement, but budgets are still lean. The ACLU's Steinberg says they'll be monitoring the law's progress closely.

Detroit has its own financial problems, distinct from those of the state. And the 36th District Court, which is in and partly funded by the city of Detroit, is not insulated from the city's fiscal woes. Even before Detroit filed for bankruptcy on July 18, the court was found to be significantly over budget for last fiscal year, spending close to $36 million when the city council allocated $31 million. A report commissioned by the state found that the court was rife with problems: overstaffed, inefficient, reliant on outdated technology and hostile to the City Council.

While criticizing the leadership of the court, the report also acknowledged that the municipal and regional context play an important role.

"It is our contention that the current economic crisis confronting the City is the new 'norm' and not merely an aberration in the history of the City to ride out until times are better," the report's authors wrote. "The erosion of the City's tax base, loss of its population, and increase in blight and dwelling abandonment has been occurring over several decades. Without extraordinary interventions, it likely will continue into the future."

Within days of the report's release in May, the state appointed Judge Michael Talbot as "special judicial administrator" to get things under control at the 36th District. Less than a month later, the city filed for bankruptcy. The court and its users are feeling the impact. More than 100 staff members have been laid off. Kenneth King was removed from his post as chief judge, although he will still sit on the bench there. The union representing the remaining court staff rejected a one-year contract offer from Talbot, which would have cut pay and reduced benefits. The labor conflict may come to a head soon, with a deadline to resolve the contract set for July 31.

The budget shortfalls at the court and its city are not likely to improve the quality of legal representation at the 36th District any time soon. But it's not just in Detroit that public lawyers are drowning in a sea of defendants, pressured to compromise years of clients lives in order to stay afloat. As in all budgetary matters, there are two sides to the equation. If the problem is an imbalance between the supply of lawyers and the demand for their services, one approach is to increase the number of attorneys. Another, of course, is to reduce the number of criminals.

"I think that has to be part of the answer," said David Carroll, executive director of the Sixth Amendment Center, a group that advocates for the right to effective counsel. "We can never spend our way out of this problem."

While more money would help the defense system, fewer criminals would, too. Reducing the number of criminals requires not a shift in behavior, but a shift in how people think about crime, punishment and redemption. That reassessment may now be under way, in Michigan and across the country. There is growing recognition that the current system of impossible caseloads, over-criminalized rule books and overflowing prisons is incredibly expensive, unsustainable — and avoidable.

America will not have to become a nation of angels. Legislatures and advocates are exploring how to shift some acts from criminal offenses to ticket-able ones. Organizers are teaming up with public defenders, bringing people power where money is short. And lawyers are trying to address the issues that led people into the justice system in the first place. None of that is without cost, but with states spending more than $50 billion a year on corrections, it may be an investment worth making.



Read more about the holistic defense movement, community organizing strategies and the bipartisan push for decriminalization at the Investigative Reporting Workshop

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