Many people have this delineation in their minds between “attorneys” and “public defenders.” The perception is that if you’re a public defender, it’s because you’re inexperienced, or incompetent, or simply a bureaucrat where every client is simply another file to get rid of as quickly as possible.
That perception is largely incorrect. It is true that if you hire a private attorney at $400 an hour, that attorney will likely have more time to meet with you and work on your case than a public defender with a large caseload . But Umpqua Valley Public Defender takes pride in representing indigent clients, and our attorneys have made a conscious decision to represent you instead of working in private practice. Keep in mind that Oregon has certain standards that attorneys must meet if they take court-appointed clients. It takes a new public defender several years and a series of benchmarks before he or she is allowed to represent someone on a serious felony charge. A private attorney, on the other hand, can work on a Measure 11 felony the day they are admitted to the bar (a terrifying thought.)
A public defender, moreover, is dedicated to helping people who have no where else to turn. We aren’t making decisions based on how much you will pay us, or whether taking your case to trial will affect our bottom line. We want to fight for you, or we wouldn’t be doing this job.
Public defenders typically do have a lot of clients. The way to deal with that, if you’re a client, is to make sure you stay in regular touch with your attorney. Keep him updated on your current address, let her know the witnesses you think may be useful in your case, and if you haven’t heard anything in a while, make an in-person appointment. If you call the office and your attorney can’t speak to you at the moment, please give details about what you need, and just ask for a telephone appointment time so that you can address the issue. If you don’t feel your attorney is communicating with you, then tell your attorney that in writing. Finally, if you still are unhappy, ask the attorney how you go about requesting a new court-appointed counsel.