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January 24, 2006

Criminal Justice Web Imbalance

Searching for jobs I can't help but notice that no matter what city or county website I visit I can always find information about the prosecutor for that jurisdiction. The prosecutor may be called a “City Attorney” or a “County Attorney” or a “District Attorney,” but his or her office always has a website and it's always very easy to find.

On the other hand, if you want to find information about that jurisdiction's public defender or other system of indigent criminal defense, well, good freaking luck. Just another sign of Gideon's Broken Promise, I guess.

Ok, I understand that even where there's a healthy and well-funded public defender's office, most of the people who will benefit from its services are not going to go looking for its website. Yet public defenders are public servants every bit as much as prosecutors; if one needs a website, so does the other. And that's true whether the jurisdiction has an actual public defender or whether it fulfills its Constitutional obligation to provide indigent criminal defense services via some other means. In other words, it should be just as easy for a person to learn about a jurisdiction's prosecuting function as it is to learn about its defense function, yet there's virtually no information about that defense function available for most jurisdictions.

On a personal note, this stinks especially if you're trying to find a defense job somewhere other than one of the major PD markets!

Posted January 24, 2006 09:13 AM | 3L crimlaw

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I didn't know there are criminals in Montana; or, how often is a cow going to access the Net to solicit help in proving his innocence? Montana does have cows right?
I suspect the imbalance is due to government more concerned with informing the public that evil is being brought to justice than it is with informing that there might be mistakes in the system that demand a defense. You wanna put your best face forward right?

Posted by: Patrick Leo at January 24, 2006 11:54 AM

I think the difference has to do with the fact that many prosecutors are elected.

Posted by: monica at January 25, 2006 10:56 AM

Yet public defenders are public servants every bit as much as prosecutors; if one needs a website, so does the other.

I'm not sure about this, Ambimb. As Monica points out, most prosecutors are elected. They have an audience for their website: either people who are considering their votes or citizens who want to know about prosecutions.

Public defenders have a VERY different client base. Further, any website of interest to their clients is going to pose some serious difficulties. (A PD's office is, after all, part of the state. You're upset about NSA spying, try this on for size: any PD's website focused on clients had better have some reason that other members of the government can't get IP address logs. To the best of my knowledge, there's no reason under law or model rules why the government can't look at its own weblogs.)

Spying aside, though, there's the issue of maintenance cost. I can see where you would be an audience for a PD site, but you're probably not enough to make it worthwhile maintaining one. Without some kind of champion, the sites are likely to be like many other derelict government pages: poorly maintained, out of date, and none too useful.

Not to say there isn't a solution for your problem. I'm surprised no one has set up a website for posting job openings for potential public defenders. It seems the kind of thing that would benefit from a specialized website on a state or nation-wide basis.

Posted by: A. Rickey at January 26, 2006 12:42 PM

The Public Defender Investigator Network has a PD Office page that has every PD website I've found, and I've added a PD Investigator job opening page (of course, there's some overlap, so some of the postings list openings for public defenders as well).

Posted by: pdinvestigator at January 28, 2006 01:28 AM

PDinvestigator: Thanks! That's a terrific resource. So far it hasn't shown me any links I wasn't already aware of, but it's great to have them collected in one place like that.

That site demonstrates the need for what A. Rickey suggested: a specialized website on a state or nation-wide basis. I mean, that's what has already started there on the PD Investigator Network, but what it also needs is contact info (phone, address, names of hiring people) for those offices that don't have websites. I'm going to look into this further.

As to the question of why PD offices don't have websites, A.Rickey also raises interesting privacy concerns. However, the PD's office could run its own site on its own servers (or via shared hosting to saved costs) to eliminate (or at least reduce) the server logs problem. And even if they didn't do that, I don't see how much damage could be done if each county just had one page saying "we have a PD's office located at (address) and the phone number is (#). Contact them if you need an attorney and can't afford one. That's what many counties already do and I've never heard of it causing any odd privacy/discovery problems. The PD's office I worked at has been trying for years to get a webpage up w/that simple info but the IT people in its jurisdiction just drag their feet and don't get it done. Meanwhile, the prosecutor's page is up, constantly maintained, and very easy to find. One way to maintain the public's contempt for PDs is to make sure they're constantly relegated to the shadows and not given the same resources as the prosecution, no?

Posted by: ambimb at January 28, 2006 02:27 PM

And even if they didn't do that, I don't see how much damage could be done if each county just had one page saying "we have a PD's office located at (address) and the phone number is (#). Contact them if you need an attorney and can't afford one.

I'll agree with you that (a) simple contact information should be available, and (b) there's probably few privacy concerns there. I was thinking of something with more bells and whistles. ;)

Still, I think a national or state-level job bank would be more useful for your problem, and more to the point could be developed with less hassle.

Posted by: A. Rickey at January 28, 2006 06:04 PM

Yeah, trying to find just the websites has been a hell of a chore. Another weird thing: some of the sites seem to regularly change addresses. And not just the sites that are tacked on as an afterthought to some county website: the Georgia State Public Defender site recently changed its address and most of the links on other sites out there are now dead ends. It would be great to have a resource with every PD office and contact info, but in a lot of counties the PD contract is given to a law firm through a bidding process each year, so keeping up with some of the changing info could be a major headache. (Could you imagine the prosecution duties going to the lowest bidder in the county?) The only site I know of that comes close to providing a national job bank attorneys looking to be defenders is NLADA's site.

Posted by: pdinvestigator at January 28, 2006 09:01 PM


I don't mean to seem dismissive. By "less hassle," I meant "less than impossible hassle." Frankly, getting as far as you have on your project is amazing, and I didn't mean to imply there was less than herculean effort involved.

Posted by: A. Rickey at January 29, 2006 02:09 AM

Richey: No problem. One of the goals of the PDI Network is simply to put related resources in one place because right now it's piecemeal, requiring surfing the Web to find things it seems should be available in one place. (For example, having all of the PD office sites available is so investigators can contact a friendly investigator in another state for assistance or guidance on out-of-state needs.) One day it just dawned on me that PD investigators (and therefore their clients and attorneys) could probably benefit from networking and communicating.

On the issue of the imbalance of Web presence between DAs and PDs, it really is a reflection of how seriously the jurisdictions take their responsibility to Gideon. Utah, for example, has no state funding for indigent defense, leaving it to the individual counties. And while some California counties have incredible indigent services (and equally impressive websites), other counties limit the budgets so much that a website is a luxurious pipedream.

Some things give me hope, though. A year ago Georgia went to a statewide system and their excellent website has contact info for all of the offices. Then again, just try finding a listing for a public defender in Alabama, or worse yet, in Maine (which doesn't have any public defenders at all)...

Posted by: pdinvestigator at January 29, 2006 10:15 AM

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