Does the right to an attorney trump the state’s need for fiscal restraint?

A district judge in Minnesota has ordered that private attorneys be hired to replace overburdened public defenders, and the cost billed to the state. Today’s Question: Does the right to an attorney trump the state’s need for fiscal restraint?

  • Duane

    I feel that protecting our constitutional right trumps fiscal restraint. Fiscal restraint should be practiced at all times by our elected officials, and can be applied in many cases. The right to have an attorney represent you in the case of a criminal or civil matter cannot be withheld.

  • Tim

    Is this a serious question?

  • linda


  • Yes, of course the right to an attorney trumps the state’s need for fiscal restraint! Everyone can’t afford to hire a private attorney. If one isn’t made available to the defendant who can’t afford one, the chances that they will receive a fair trial are diminished. Basing our judicial system on an ability to pay would be horrifyingly unfair.

  • Steve the Cynic

    I suppose the gov’t could save a lot of money by just not putting people who can’t afford an attorney on trial. If we’re not willing to pay for due process, we could just let them go. Or we could declare them enemy combatants and hold them without trial. But what kind of country do we want to live in?

  • Lois

    The state does need to pay for attorneys for people who can’t afford them. But then that raises the question of: Is the state paying enough to get a competent attorney with enough time to do well for the defendant? Should law firms each make time available from attorneys for this process?

  • Philip

    Uh, yes.

  • Annie

    Absolutely. Always.

  • Chris


    Do we have a right to a world class education? Yes!

    Do we have a land grant University and have the right to affordable higher education? Yes!

    Do we have the right for a safe community (with enough police officers and firemen)? Yes!

    Do we have the right to get the money we paid into Social Securety back in retirement? Yes!

    Do we want to pay for any of this stuff?

    Most young people would say.. YES! We should also pay for the wars, and the Stimulus, and many other things that were popular at one point of time.

    I can’t speak for older people, but it sure seems like the majority doesn’t like to pay for anything, but still demand all of the same governmental services. This is a cultural problem and it really should change. I love this country too much too keep selling it. My two cents.

  • bsimon

    “Does the right to an attorney trump the state’s need for fiscal restraint?”

    Geez, that pesky bill of rights may be getting in the way again; something about the right to equal treatment that was codified by SCOTUS in some ruling… Mirabelle, Myrna, mir, mir, oh.. Miranda, that’s right. Right – we were on Rights. Like Miranda rights and human rights, which trump states’ rights. Strange how the rights of the individual circle around and become a collective obligation, where we all are expected to live by the rules set by government (i.e. us), which may include taxation in order to ensure that individuals’ rights (like having an attorney & equal protection under the law) are preserved. I suspect that linkage is lost on some.

  • Jim

    Without question the right to an attorney trumps the state’s fiscal troubles. Why? Because it’s in the Constitution. As such, it is the state’s responsibility to ensure that there are enough funds for adequate defense of those who need it.

    The fact that this question has to even be asked points to two things: The state is no managing it’s budgets properly and the state is passing too many damn stupid laws that people have to defend them selves from. Cut out all the crappy victimless crimes and this problem goes away.

  • Jake

    While fiscal responsibility is necessary for a a state to function well, if it can’t serve the people, it isn’t functioning at all.

    Let’s remember that the state was created by the people, for the people, not by capital investment for the bottom dollar.

  • jamex

    I second Tim’s comment:

    Is this a serious question?

  • Warren

    A defendant has a constitutional right to “effective assistance of counsel,” even if, like Gideon in the U.S. Supreme Court case that affirms this right, he or she cannot afford an attorney. Not only do defendants have a right to an attorney, but they have the right to an attorney who is competent and has the resources to properly investigate the case and prepare a proper defense. This costs money, but unless that right is vindicated, the government’s case is not properly challenged and justice is not assurred. At that point, the rights of all citizens are in jeopardy.

  • Gary F

    I don’t think the question was posed right.

    People are still getting a lawyer, whether it’s a government employee or an outside vendor.

    So, people still are getting a lawyer.

    I’m not sure of the cost differences and the work rules of using private vendors versus government employees.

  • Max

    You tax and spend liberals with your unfunded mandates. What next? I suppose you’ll expect the taxpayer to foot the bill for your jury trials and fancy court rooms.

  • bsimon

    Gary F writes

    “I’m not sure of the cost differences and the work rules of using private vendors versus government employees.”

    Thinking back to news stories earlier this year, I recall chief judge Magnuson writing that the budget for the courts was insufficient to properly fund public defenders, among other things. Bob C of the newscut blog also had a post, maybe last year, on the volume of work faced by public defenders; to the point that they, the attorneys, are saying they can’t do as good a job as their clients’ deserve because they’re overworked.

    Gary is correct to point out that we don’t actually know which attorney is more cost-effective for the state; but what we can infer is that the state’s budget for the courts has been maxed out & there is not additional budget available for public defenders; but a district judge has found this unacceptable and decreed that appropriate legal counsel be provided & the state will have to figure out how to pay for them. This would not be necessary if the courts were properly funded by the state in the first place.

  • bsimon

    one more point; the question’s context is best explained by this story, from yesterday:

  • Kevin

    The ‘right to a public defender’ has always been neglected even when the budget was good.

    Its a JOKE, and a joke that costs real world lives/reputations/and time to the most vulnerable.

    Its well known, its just Politicians do not like to face facts they are at war against the poor, vulnerable, and weak.

  • Carrie

    Yes, of course it does. I think Tim got it right.

    Is this a serious question?

  • Mary

    It is the responsibility of our government, both state and federal, to make sure our constitutional rights are preserved. That includes providing funding if needed to assure those rights.

  • EAL

    The question is moot as a solid legal system for all citizens is a required role of government in a free society. Perhaps a better question is should law abiding citizens be financially responsible for those who knowingly and repeatedly breach societies laws? This of course is a rhetorical question.

  • joe pastoor

    Same as Tim. Is this a serious question? Is the Pope Catholic? Does a bear . . . whatever. Just because you are journalists over at MPR doesn’t mean there are really two sides to every story. Stop trying to make one where there isn’t.

  • Mary Alice Harvey

    Absolutely. A fair trial is a basic right for everyone. Public defenders are trained and experienced in defense, and if they are not overworked so that they have sufficient time and have the back-up staff they need for investigation are by far the best people for the job. the most cost effective, too.

  • Tony

    If the accused gets a good public defender, he or she may get exonerated, but tragically die due to lack of affordable health coverage.

    On the other hand…

    Or, the accused could hire a private attorney who will bill the state at more than the usual rate, and the state could eliminate more health care, and cut funding for schools too. And all this can be paid for by reducing the minimum wage. That way, if we cut taxes we’ll have more money. All that extra money can be used to recruit new teachers from the business world, because with all the regular teachers out of work due to budget cuts, we’ll probably be short some teachers. So you see, that’s how cutting government makes sense. If you’re a Republican.

  • Tony

    How about this one, I approached Anoka County attorney with the goods on my employee who embezzled $250,000. He wouldn’t pursue it.

    Not enough in the budget, This taxpayer’s budget was taken by two thieves, the thief and the county attorney.