The shortage impacts nearly all parts of the criminal justice system from overcrowded jails, to pretrial releases, and hundreds of case dismissals. In response, district attorneys throughout the state have called for reform.
“It is possible that some of the cases that we’re prosecuting from these efforts will run into a lack of public defense attorneys,” Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt said. “We need to see more attorneys coming online so that we can see those cases be brought.”
On Wednesday, the Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Megan Flynn appointed Public Defender Services of Lane County’s executive director Brook Reinhard and 11 other residents to serve on the new commission. It is slated to replace the current Public Defense Services Commission and the Office of Public Defense Services on Jan. 1, 2024.
“The effort and expertise of these commissioners will help bring stability to Oregon’s public defense system and ensure that it serves all Oregonians who depend on dedicated and experienced public defense attorneys to protect their rights,” Flynn said.
Reinhard said he is honored to be joining a group of “really distinguished people.”
“We have some returning commissioners who are real subject matter experts in public defense, and it’s gonna be a challenge because there’s a lot of work to get our system up to the place where we’re really ensuring constitutional representation for every person,” he said.
He also said this crisis has been caused by chronic underfunding of public defense and a lack of a cohesive statewide system. He adds that the new commission and recent funding are steps in the right direction to getting the issue under control.
The new commission comes as state court data shows right now there are more than 3,000 people accused of crimes without an attorney – and 130 still in custody. The majority of those cases are concentrated in Jackson, Multnomah, Marion, Clackamas and Washington counties.
As of Nov. 2, only one position remains open. Officials say the House and Senate judiciary committees are holding a joint meeting next week to get an update from OPDS.
Stay with KOIN 6 as this story develops.