PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – As Oregon faces a public defender shortage the state’s Chief Justice sent a letter to the commissioners who oversee the state’s public defense agency asking them to address the crisis.

In the letter, Chief Justice Martha Walters calls for the executive director of the Office of Public Defense Services to come up with a plan that takes immediate steps to deal with the shortage.

Walters said the commission has an obligation to provide lawyers for people who have a constitutional right to representation.

The chief justice notes that while steps have been taken to address the crisis, “hundreds who are constitutionally entitled to counsel are being denied that right, and no end is in sight.”

Among Walters’ recommendations is the hiring of more public defense attorneys and support staff along with caseloads that allow public defense attorneys to take on new work.

“It is unconstitutional and, for me, unethical and unconscionable, to intentionally leave defendants in custody without representation, no matter what benefits may accrue to others or to the public defense system. The public defense crisis is not a crisis that should fall on the shoulders of those who have no means to address it. Those of us who have a responsibility to provide them with counsel must step up,” Walters said.

This letter comes as criminal defendants who have gone without representation filed a lawsuit in May saying the state violated their right to counsel and a speedy trial.