PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Oregon is facing a public defender shortage, adding stress to current attorneys and leaving hundreds of people charged with crimes without representation.
According to the state judicial department, 709 people in Oregon charged with a crime do not have representation currently.
An American Bar Association report from January said every current public defender in Oregon would have to work 26 hours a day to handle the current caseload.
When asked who loses when society doesn’t have enough public defenders, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici replied, “We all do. It’s not fair to the defendant who’s accused of a crime and has a constitutional right to a lawyer. It’s not fair to the victims of the crime. It’s not fair to the judicial system and it’s not fair to the public in general.”
Bonamici says a functional judicial system is a vital part of the community not to mention guaranteed in the Constitution. She says right now, the state is short 1,300 public defenders.
Many lawmakers, including Bonamici, are pushing for the EQUAL Defense Act, a piece of federal legislation to support public defenders.
First proposed last year, the bill grants funding to help public defenders across the country. Also, provisions for workload limits, getting more data and addressing pay disparity between prosecutors and public defenders. Congresswoman Bonamici said a student loan forgiveness program would also be included.
“This is all about having a fully functioning judicial system in our state courts,” said Bonamici. “It’s about public safety. It’s about respecting people’s constitutional rights to counsel in criminal cases.”
Bonamici says she’s hoping to get this bill moving through Congress, hoping to make it bipartisan and says it has gained support from Democrats and Republicans.