Southern Minnesota public defender office to close

The latest stop for the down-sizing of Minnesota’s public defense system is in the southern part of the state. The Fairmont Sentinel says a public defender’s office serving four counties from the south-central Minnesota city will close.

Public defender’s represent people in court who can’t pay for their own attorney. Budget cuts have made life tough for those lawyers. Detroit Lakes attorney David Stowman chairman of the Minnesota Board of Public Defense, says the system is “struggling”. He says budget cuts means the average state public defender works about 70 percent more cases per year than is recommended by the American Bar Association.

MPR News reporter Jessica Mador reported on the system last year, finding that one public defender figured his caseload meant he could spend about 12 minutes per client per day.

Stowman says one thing which may help ease caseloads a little is the legal system’s growing reliance on electronic communication. For certain courtroom proceedings, he says, public defenders in some cases may be able to appear through a video hookup and save the driving time.

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