Task Force Urges Tennessee to Reform Public Defense

“If you are poor, your lawyer is often overworked and grossly underfunded” via The Commercial Appeal
Shelby County Assistant Public Defenders Melody Dernocoeur, Phil Harvey featured in the Commercial Appeal.

This week, a task force appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court to examine indigent defense, specifically how the defense of poor people is funded, released its findings. The task force has met and conducted listening tours for the past 16 months.

Tennessee has a hybrid system in which Public Defender office’s handle the vast majority of counsel for the poor. Private attorneys are appointed to cases these offices cannot take, such as a case with co-defendants and one person is represented by the public defender.

“Based on the task force report, I’m hopeful Tennessee will finally establish reasonable workload controls that ensure we can meet the minimum ethical obligations that all lawyers owe their clients.”  –  Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush

 

Among the top recommendations from the task force via The Commercial Appeal:

  • Raise the rate of private attorneys appointed to represent the poor from $40-50/hour to $75-125/hour.  Currently, Tennessee’s compensation rate is among the lowest in the country.
  • Eliminate the caps on how much time can be spent on an appointed case.
  • Develop a training and certification process for new lawyers, to ensure standardization of skills
  • Creation of a commission to oversee all appointed counsel, including the defense of children.

We look forward to seeing the legislation that will come from this report and are hopeful it will lead to every Tennessean, regardless of income, receiving a zealous defense in our criminal justice system.

You can read the entire article in this story via The Commercial Appeal

You can also read the entire report here.

 

Celebrate Public Defense!

Join our office and defenders across the country as we recognize the lawyers, investigators, social workers, mediation specialists, law clerks, paralegals and support staff who fight on behalf of their clients every day.

The Law Offices of the Shelby County Public Defender are powered by more than 80 lawyers and 40 support staff and managers. Sounds like a huge staff. Until you realize those attorneys represent 35 thousand people a year. Many of our lawyers have caseloads more than twice that recommended by the U.S. Justice Department. Try protecting someone’s constitutional rights when you have 900 cases.

Some of the best trained lawyers from some of the best law schools in the country work in our office. We either need more of them or if you ask us, we’d rather have a smaller, smarter and more humane criminal justice system – one that points people toward more productive lives instead of setting them up for a quick return to jail.

For nearly a century — the Shelby County Public Defender’s Office has provided zealous counsel to tens of thousands of people. We are proud of this tradition and are dedicated to building upon it. You can watch this video about the incredible story that sparked the founding of the 3rd oldest public defense system in the country.

During this Public Defense Week our office and defenders across the country in collaboration with the National Association for Public Defense​ are sharing stories and statistics to honor the anniversary of Gideon v Wainwright (1963) the landmark Supreme Court decision that established public defender offices across the country. Go to these hashtags on Facebook and Twitter #CelebratePublicDefense #DefendGideon #TippingtheScales

We need lawmakers, community leaders and all of our neighbors to support the work of our public defenders and staff. We need you to fight policies that decimate neighborhoods and put scores of people, disproportionately people of color, in cages. We need people like you to fight these policies that negatively affect their lives and those of their loved ones long after they’ve completed their sentences.

Here’s what you can do to support public defenders and their clients:

Follow the progress of this proposal from the Chief Justice of the TN Supreme Court to overhaul Tennessee’s bloated and outdate criminal sentencing laws.

Fight any efforts in the Tennessee legislature to cut public defense funding.Call your legislators and tell them you support State Representative Raumesh Akbari​’s bill to cut felony conviction expungement fees in half.

Support those who support the work of public defenders and their clients. Donate to Just CityNational Association of Public Defense and Gideon’s Promise.

Listen to the voices of public defenders and the challenges our clients face every day:

Why I Come to Work | High Ground News

Shelby County Public Defender Chairs ACE Awareness Board

ACE Awareness Foundation an effort to help parents, caregivers limit or prevent a child’s chronic exposure to trauma

Shelby County Public Defender Stephen Bush has been named the new chair of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Awareness Foundation board.

“As the public defender, I see daily the consequences of adverse childhood experiences in the lives of the thousands of children bumping up against juvenile court,” said Stephen Bush, Shelby County Public Defender.

 

“In fact, 93% of youth in detention have survived repeated trauma. This strong correlation between trauma and contact with juvenile court is undeniable and something that we, as parents and as community, cannot afford to ignore.”

Bush has served on the ACEs Task Force since it was founded in 2014. The task force launched the ACE Awareness Foundation. Since then, the foundation has created two Universal Parenting Places (UPPs) which provide any parent who walks through their doors with counseling and information involving family-related issues or concerns. In July, ACEs also opened the “Warm Line” — a free, live telephone line that connects parents with trained professionals who provide parenting guidance and support.

“We’ve known for many years about the link between early childhood traumas and future justice system involvement,” said Bush. “What is becoming increasingly clear, though, is that toxic stress experienced during childhood is crippling to a child in ways far beyond problems at school or an encounter with the justice system.”

For his first public outreach as ACE Awareness Foundation board chair, Bush appeared on the Commercial Appeal’s ‘Talk, Memphis’ podcast hosted by journalist David Waters.

“It’s about fundamental fairness. Which is really what our work at the public defender’s office is about. We are appointed to represent individuals that can’t afford counsel, because I believe everyone deserves a fair shake. The Constitution requires it,” said Bush on the podcast. “But if you take that same idea, certainly every kid born in this community should have a fair shake and a healthy life – to live a healthy and whole life.”

“I can tell you, if we get this right about reducing and preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences, we can begin to talk about reducing the size of our criminal justice system, right-sizing our juvenile justice system and the savings that could come from that could very well fund anything we need to do in public education.” 

You can listen to the entire podcast here

Learn more about the work the ACE Awareness Foundation is doing to increase knowledge among policy makers, state and local leaders and citizens about the effects and causes of toxic stress in this piece that aired in April of 2016 on PBS Newshour.  You can watch the entire segment here.

Check out the ACE Awareness Foundation website and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.