Should Public Defenders Be Elected? By Whom?

The election of Matt Shirk as Public Defender in Florida begs two questions.

1- How should chief public defenders be chosen?
2- Who is Matt Shirk?

From The Agitator

Shirk, who was backed by the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, has never defended a homicide case. His campaign promises included a vow not to oppose funding cuts to the office he was running for, and a promise to squeeze as much money as possible out of indigent defendants, including a proposal for hte postponed billing of acquitted defendants who might later be able to find some employment.

The democratic process has produced a GOP Chief PD more dedicated to cutting spending than fighting for the indigent. The election of Mr. Shirk highlights the main problem with allowing the public to elect the public defender- the public hates criminal defendants.

That’s right. You (the voting public) hate criminal defendants. Even worse, you hate spending tax dollars to defend murderers and drug dealers. If someone ran on a platform of spending less money to defend the indigent, you would (and did) vote for him.

So what is the alternative? In Texas most public defenders are chosen by the county commissioners. I have some experience with this. My first job out of law school was with the Wichita County Public Defender in Wichita Falls. The county commissioners at that time wanted to shut the office down. There was a conflict with our chief PD, and a pissing match ensued.

The office is still open. However, I quickly bailed and took a job as a prosecutor.

I don’t believe letting the county commissioners pick the PD is a great system either. With the public voting you have to anger thousands of voters to lose your job as chief PD.

With county commissioners you only have to piss off 3 or 4 local politicians and you lose your job. What’s worse, local politicians can be easily pissed off. Local politicians can also share the public’s disdain for providing indigent defense.

What is the best way to pick the Chief Public Defender? It’s a position that the public doesn’t want to exist and that the county commissioners don’t want to fund.

This article wouldn’t be complete without a solution. It is folly to expect the majority to elect someone who represents a hated minority. Therefore, we should open up a special vote for public defender and limit the voters to defense attorneys, convicted criminals, and current defendants. They have the most experience with the system, and do not share the disdain for criminal defense.

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3 responses to “Should Public Defenders Be Elected? By Whom?”

  1. You bring up an interesting question. I have heard this option proposed before, but the question still remains – who would elect the public defenders? I do like your solutions, however, as they seem to be the most complete solutions to the problem I have come across.

  2. Don Foard says:

    I agree with you that the public hates defendants and defense lawyers. They think it’s a waste of money, basically because the person was arrested, after all, wasn’t he? Sad, but much of the public thinks this way. I don’t know the perfect solution, but I think politics should somehow be taken out of the whole process, (CJ), including judges and prosecutors. But especially PD’s. When you think about it, it’s preposterous to let the public elect a PD. What’s he gonna run on? Should be the opposite of the DA, right? How about: “Last year I got more rapists, burglars, murderers, etc. off than my opponent ever even knew. Why, I was appointed to a case where the guy took a machete and.. .”, you get the picture. The DA can brag about how he got a pot smoker 10 years, and he’s in like Flint. If the PD does a good job seeing protecting his client’s civil rights, he’s just a babykiller loving scum bag. Geez.

  3. Bubba says:

    You don’t even have to piss off a majority of commissioners once they get into the “if you vote with me on this, I’ll vote with you on that,” mode. It’s a poor system. As several have advocated, there should be a board to insulate the chief PD from the whims of the commissioners.

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