public defender

For Many, a Lawyer Is a Luxury Out of Reach

This is The Marshall Project’s Closing Argument newsletter, a weekly deep dive into a key criminal justice issue. Want this delivered to your inbox? Subscribe to future newsletters here.

If you live in a large city, you probably don’t worry much about finding a lawyer, should you ever need one. Whether you can afford that lawyer is another matter, but they are available. As a city-dweller, I can easily recall the names of several local defense attorneys just from thinking of bus advertisements and billboards I pass on a typical drive.

In much of rural America, the situation looks vastly different.

The Denver Post reported this week that 23 of Colorado’s 64 counties now fall into the category of “legal deserts”: mostly rural places where there is fewer than one attorney per 1,000 people. It’s hardly just a Colorado problem, said Pamela Metzger, director of the Deason Criminal Justice Reform Center at Southern Methodist University. She told me that lawyers in rural areas skew much older than those in cities and are retiring at a much faster pace than they are being replaced, citing research on legal deserts in Texas.

“We don’t teach about it in law school. We don’t make it a viable career opportunity, and we’ve priced everybody out of practicing in rural areas,” Metzger said.

Legal deserts are just one of many barriers people face in obtaining legal representation, the most apparent one being cost: By some estimates, 80% of criminal defendants can’t afford a lawyer. Indeed, 2023 marks 60 years since the Supreme Court ruled in Gideon v. Wainwright that state courts must provide attorneys to criminal defendants who can’t afford their own.

The case spurred the creation of public defender officers as a counterpart to prosecutors in the criminal system. Notably, though,

Read the rest

New Lawyer for Georgia Man Jailed for a Decade Without Trial Motions for Dismissal

Maurice Jimmerson has been behind bars for 10 years but hasn’t been convicted of a crime. Due to a series of bureaucratic holdups, Jimmerson has been held in a Dougherty County, Georgia, jail since he was charged with murder in 2013—a crime for which two of his codefendants have already been acquitted. Making matters worse, Jimmerson recently spent eight months without any lawyer at all.

After local journalists uncovered Jimmerson’s case in April, an Atlanta criminal defense attorney stepped in to represent Jimmerson pro bono—and he’s motioned to dismiss the charges altogether. 

It’s unclear why exactly Jimmerson has languished in jail for so long. Gregory Edwards, the Dougherty County district attorney, told Atlanta News First that some of the delay can be attributed to a 2021 courthouse flood, the COVID-19 pandemic, and a previous judge’s decision to try Jimmerson and his codefendants separately for the 2013 double-murder charge. Two of Jimmerson’s codefendants were tried—and acquitted—in 2017.

Things got even worse for Jimmerson in the summer of 2022, when his public defender, Benjamin Harrell, filed several requests to be released from Jimmerson’s case, noting that he needed to travel frequently to obtain medical care for his infant daughter. However, court employees seemingly lost Harrell’s requests and didn’t actually grant his release from the case until April 12 of this year—apparently after local journalists questioned one judge on why she hadn’t approved Harrell’s request. 

While Jimmerson was effectively without a lawyer during this period, the Georgia Public Defender Council has insisted that, though Harrell was not providing Jimmerson with any legal help, Jimmerson was, in fact, being properly represented. 

“A court error, if one took place, does not obviate Mr. Harrell’s responsibilities or representation,” Thomas O’Conner, the Public Defender Council’s communications director said. “In law and in fact, Mr. Harrell was

Read the rest

Maine’s ACLU urges lawmakers to increase funding for indigenous legal defense

A representative from a group that is leading a class action lawsuit against the state is urging lawmakers to commit even more money to create public defender’s offices around the state.

The ACLU of Maine filed suit one year ago this week, claiming the state is failing in its constitutional obligation to provide attorneys to low-income criminal defendants. Since then, lawmakers created a small, public defender office to take cases in rural Maine. And the administration of Gov. Janet Mills has proposed expanding that office.

Zach Heiden, chief counsel for ACLU Maine, told lawmakers on two committees on Monday that’s progress and he also criticized the recent decision to increase the hourly reimbursement for private attorneys who take on clients through the Commission on Indigent Legal Services. Earlier, the outgoing executive director of the commission, Justin Andrus, told lawmakers that the higher reimbursement rate – from $80 to $150 an hour – has led to a significant jump in interest among private attorneys willing to take on independent cases.

But Heiden also said a hybrid system of private attorneys and public defenders should have been adopted years ago rather than its standing, until recently, as the only state in the country to rely entirely on private attorneys. And he said additional reforms – such as increased training and supervision as well as for statewide offices to handle appeals and post-conviction reviews – will cost money.

“These investments are, as you are no doubt aware, considerably more than the state is accustomed to spending on indigenous defense,” told members of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee as well as the Judiciary Committee. “Please do not mistake them for luxury “This is the bare minimum of funding required to have a functioning independent defense system in this state and by extension

Read the rest

Bryan Kohberger’s Attorney Is Being Paid $8K a Week to Defend Him: Report

Bryan Kohberger’s attorney, Anne Taylor, is being paid $200 an hour, $8,000 a week, to defend him in the Idaho murder case, according to reports.

Kohberger was arrested on December 30 and charged with the murder of Kaylee Goncalves, 21, Xana Kernodle, 20, Madison Mogen, 21, and Ethan Chapin, 20. He also was charged with one count of felony burglary and remains in custody in Moscow, Idaho.

The victims were students at the University of Idaho and were found stabbed to death in an off-campus residence in Moscow, Idaho, on November 13. Kohberger has said that he is innocent.

Taylor is a public defender in Kootenai County, but she is qualified to represent suspects in capital cases, in which the state seeks the death penalty.

Anne Taylor
Public defender Anne Taylor, the attorney for Bryan Kohberger, enters during a hearing in Latah County District Court on January 5, 2023, in Moscow, Idaho. According to reports, Taylor could be getting $8,000 a week for defending Kohberger in the University of Idaho murder case.

Jennifer Coffindaffera former FBI agent who has been following the case, told NewsNation on Wednesday about her surprise at how much Taylor, chief of the Kootenai County Public Defender’s Office, is being paid to act as Kohberger’s public defender.

Before introducing Coffindaffer, NewsNation host Brian Entin said that Taylor would be paid $200 an hour for a 40-hour work week.

“It is clear that it is going to add up very fast,” Entin said. “We will break it down for you, $ 8,000 a week, that is more than $ 380,000 a year. Again, she is a public defender.”

Coffindaffer said: “I was very surprised and let me tell you why. She is a county government employee. I can tell you that the law enforcement officers who

Read the rest

1,000 Legal Aid workers in New York City hold walkout in contract struggle

Legal Aid and Legal Services workers, please contact us and tell us about your working conditions, what you think about the Legal Aid contract struggle and socialist Will Lehman’s exposure and challenge to the UAW union election.

New York Legal Aid attorneys protest (New York City Central Labor Council AFL-CIO Facebook) [Photo: New York City Central Labor Council AFL-CIO Facebook]

One thousand Association of Legal Aid Attorneys conducted a one-hour strike and informational picket for a new contract last week on Wednesday, February 8. They chanted “two percent won’t pay the rent” during lunch-hour pickets at Legal Aid Society offices in all five boroughs of New York City. The Legal Aid Society is a non-profit corporation operating in New York City, funded mostly by the city and state with some private donations. Among their responsibilities, legal aid lawyers and support staff are responsible for providing legal representation to lower-income tenants facing evictions who are employed by the Legal Aid Society and Legal Services, nonprofit corporations that contract with the city to provide these services.

This followed a strike authorization vote of 92 percent, with 93 percent of the eligible membership voting, announced by UAW Local 2325 on January 23. Local 2325 represents civil and public defenders employed by the Legal Aid Society. Their previous contract expired last summer.

The overwhelming strike vote was announced two days before negotiations with Legal Aid were set to begin. During the negotiations, Legal Aid proposed a derisory 2 percent wage increase amid soaring inflation and cost-of-living increases in one of the most expensive cities in the world. In the face of overwhelming strike authorization by the members, the UAW 2325 leadership rejected the insulting offer and called for the one-hour strike on Wednesday.

The strike announcement on February 6 stated the action was being

Read the rest

California attorney Elliot Blair found dead on Mexico vacation likely ‘hit and dragged’: lawyer

An attorney for Elliot Blair’s family claims that his head was likely “hit and dragged” by more than one person before dying while on a vacation in Mexico.

Blair, a public defender in California, was vacationing in Rosita, Mexico last month with his wife Kimberly Williams celebrating their one-year anniversary when he was found dead outside an entrance to a three-story hotel.

Mexican authorities have been inconsistent in their explanations for Blair’s death, but the family believes it was a murder.

Mexican authorities claim that his death “was the result of an unfortunate accident due to the fall of the deceased from a third floor,” stating that Blair was possibly intoxicated and trying to shoo pigeons away.


Orange County Deputy Public Defender Elliot Blair was "tragically killed" while vacationing in Rosarito, Mexico, on Jan.  14, is family says.

Orange County Deputy Public Defender Elliot Blair was “tragically killed” while vacationing in Rosarito, Mexico, on Jan. 14, is family says. (GoFundMe)

Blair’s wife, Williams, said that her husband’s death wasn’t an accident during an appearance on Good Morning America.

“I just know it’s not an accident,” Williams said. “I know he didn’t fall. I just know that.”

Case Barnett, an attorney for Blair’s family, told the New York Post that foul play was involved.

“It’s obvious to us and to the experts we have spoken to that this is foul play,” Barnett said. “It’s either he fell to his knees for some reason or he got hit and dragged. One of our experts told us that it’s likely that more than one man did this if you look at the damage to Elliot’s head.”

Orange County deputy public defender Elliot Blair's family does not believe he was intoxicated and fell to his death.

Orange County deputy public defender Elliot Blair’s family does not believe he was intoxicated and fell to his death. (Attorney Case Barnett)

After a night on the town, Williams was woken up at 1:40 am by

Read the rest

Elliot Blair suffered 40 head fractures before death at a Mexican resort, lawyers say

Californian lawyer Elliot Blair suffered a badly fractured skull and bruises across his body before he died at a Mexican resorta family attorney says.

the Orange County public defender‘s mysterious death at the Las Rocas Resort and Spa in Rosarito Beach on 14 January was initially ruled as a result of an accidental fall by mexican authorities.

However, his wife Kimberly Williams believes he was murdered and requested a second independent autopsy to be carried out in the United States.

Preliminary results have revealed that Blair, 33, had more than 40 fractures on his head mostly in the back of his skull and left side of his face, attorney Case Barnett told the New York Post.

Mr Barnett told the Post that the injuries suggest Blair was beaten by several assassins and that he may have been “hit and dragged”.

“It’s obvious to us and to the experts we have spoken to that this is foul play,” he said.

The second autopsy revealed several alarming inconsistencies from the account of his death put forward by Mexican authorities.

The fractures to Blair’s head were on the opposite side to where he had been found lying on concrete, Mr Barnett said.

And a large black mark on his arm could have been a defensive wound, Mr Barnett added.

Blair and his wife had been celebrating their first wedding anniversary by dancing and karaoke at the resort just south of Tijuana on the night he died.

  (GoFundMe/Elliot Blair)

(GoFundMe/Elliot Blair)

Ms Williams has said that after leaving the Spash Baja bar and restaurant at about 7pm that two local police officers extorted them for money.

“The officer asked us where we were staying and what we were doing in Rosarito,” Ms Williams told ABC News.

“Elliot told him we were on vacation. He

Read the rest

The National Legal Aid and Defender Association receives grants from the Walmart Foundation to support the Black Public Defender Association

WASHINGTON (Jan.30, 2023) —The National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA) is excited to announce a multi-year grant from the Walmart Foundation to support the Black Public Defender Association (BPDA), a section of NLADA. The $500,000 grant through the Center for Racial Equity will allow BPDA to advance racial equity by expanding its national network of Black public defenders and increasing its community engagement efforts.

“We are a relatively new organization that has made huge strides in providing leadership pathways for Black defenders while simultaneously supporting future defenders,” said Alaina Bloodworth, BPDA’s Interim Executive Director. “We could not be more thrilled about the Center for Racial Equity’s support of our ability to train and promote public defenders to serve as a catalyst for change in their communities.”

BPDA’s ultimate goal is to help public defenders to become more powerful advocates and transformational leaders. As a leader in the public defense space, BPDA is working to ensure that public defenders are meaningfully informed about how the profession can advance more equitable outcomes.

“I am extremely proud of the work that the Black Public Defender Association is doing every day to center racial equity in the work of public defense,” said April Frazier Camara, NLADA President and CEO. “I am happy to see that the Walmart Foundation has chosen to support BPDA’s efforts.”

This grant will help expand the BPDA Community Engagement Fellowship, which provides public defender offices access to a fully paid, full-time intern for the summer at little to no cost. The goal is for public defender offices to be able to implement a project or program that expands their outreach to the communities they serve to promote racial equity. These projects can include but are not limited to Know Your Rights training, expungement clinics, and community conversations

Read the rest

California attorney Elliot Blair seen in photos taken hours before mysterious death in Mexico

New photos show Orange County deputy public defender Elliot Blair — who mysteriously died Monday while on a one-year wedding anniversary to Mexico — dancing just hours before police say he fell off a balcony outside his hotel room, though his family differently.

Mexican website Patrol 646 said Blair, 33, was intoxicated and fell to his death from a fourth-floor balcony at Las Rocas Resort and Spa in Rosarito Beachalthough his family denied that report and said the tragic incident took place in an “open-air walkway located outside the front door of” the couple’s room.

In photos taken just hours before Blair died, he can be seen dancing before a band and smiling with his wife. Other photos show the recently married couple eating out and taking in scenic beach views on what was supposed to be a relaxing and romantic getaway that turned deadly for reasons the Blair family is still trying to determine.

Attorney Case Barnett, who is representing the Blair family, told Fox News that they received a phone call from the local coroner’s office after the 33-year-old’s death saying his cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.


Orange County deputy public defender Elliot Blair dances just hours before his death at a resort in Mexico.

Orange County deputy public defender Elliot Blair dances just hours before his death at a resort in Mexico.
(Attorney Case Barnett)

 Orange County deputy <a href=public defender Elliot Blair and his wife dance on vacation in Rosarito Beach, Mexico.”/

Orange County deputy public defender Elliot Blair and his wife dance on vacation in Rosarito Beach, Mexico.
(Attorney Case Barnett)

The coroner also said Blair’s case would be forwarded to the local DA’s office to conduct a “possible homicide investigation.”


Read the rest

Bryan Kohberger’s lawyer thinks evidence can be ‘attacked’

The Pennsylvania public defender who repped the University of Idaho murder suspect Bryan Kohberger was so shocked that the case ended in his lap, he hung up the phone after being told the news.

“I did not believe that they were telling me the truth,” Monroe County Chief Public Defender Jason LaBar told local station WFMZ.

After Kohberger was arrested last month at his parents’ home in Albrightsville, Pa., the pair spent four hours over the course of five days as he helped the alleged killer navigate the extradition process, LaBar said.

“The first thing I said to him was ‘Bryan, don’t tell me anything about the case. I don’t want to know any of the facts and circumstances,’” said LaBar, who is no longer involved in the case now that Kohberger is back in Latah County facing four charges of first-degree murder and one charge of burglary.

The recently unsealed police affidavit offers a “strong circumstantial case” against his former client, but the public defender doesn’t think it is air-tight.

“Individually taken, the evidence could be attacked,” he said, although he couldn’t explain why Kohberger’s DNA was on the sheath if he wasn’t involved in the attack.

Read the rest