PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – Several criminal cases have been on hold because of a lack of public defenders in the state. Now, there’s a new director of the Oregon Office of Public Defense: Jessica Kampfe.

Kampfe has a 16-year career in public defender services and was the Director of Multnomah Defenders in Portland. Now, a unanimous vote named her the next director of OPD.

Kampfe says the public defender shortage affects more than just criminal cases.  

“Public defense sits at the apex or intersection of criminal legal work but also behavioral health, housing crises and so there are a number of systems that are under-resourced right now,” Kampfe said.

A report from the Oregon Project in January showed the state has one-third of the public defenders it needs.

“One thing we need to do is think about how we can build up capacity in public defense by, first of all, retaining people in this work,” Kampfe said.

In early August, the OPD commission took action — increasing pay for cases to address part of the problem. These actions give Kampfe hope and says she expects further investment by state lawmakers in 2023.

“As a leader in public defense, I feel like I am being successful when the people I am supervising are adequately resourced to serve the community and that they’re set up to be successful,” Kampfe explained.

While Kampfe says compensation plays a big part in the shortage, she noted that workload standards are another factor as well.

As cases have become more technologically complex, with evidence like cell phone data, Kampfe says public defenders need “ethical workload standards” to keep them in their positions.

“Burnout is absolutely a factor for public defense. This is a very trauma-rich environment, and we need to be investing in teaching public defenders to navigate these trauma-rich spaces,” Kampfe said.

Kampfe also emphasized the importance of training programs for public defenders, both for procedural tasks and also to deal with the complexity of cases.