Review of Alaska Public Defender Agency Released
November 04, 2019
(SitNews) - Anchorage, Alaska - Alaska Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka today released results of a report, conducted by the Oversight and Review Unit (O&R), on the Alaska Public Defender Agency (PDA). The review was initiated 8 months ago with the former Public Defender to evaluate the efficiency and effectiveness of the PDA’s management practices and operations.
“The State of Alaska is committed to both adequately fulfilling its obligation to provide indigent public defense services and making its Public Defender Agency the primary defense agency in the State,” said Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka. “We as the State have a constitutional duty to provide competent and quality representation for defendants in criminal cases when they are unable to afford counsel. The findings of this report show how we can improve the PDA to best serve Alaskans.”
The key findings of the PDA review include:
- The PDA’s weighted caseload per attorney in FYs18-19 are within professional standards. The PDA, therefore, is fulfilling its ethical and constitutional obligations.
- A substantial increase in PDA cases were conflicted to the Office of Public Advocacy (from 2,813 in FY17 to 4,224 in FY19). If the PDA cannot find ways to substantially reduce the conflict rate, it risks undermining its core mission of being the primary agency providing court-appointed legal representation to indigent clients.
- The PDA counts cases differently than OPA and takes 25% credit in its weighting system for cases referred to OPA. This makes it difficult to use the PDA’s workload numbers in a way that’s effective for budgeting purposes, especially when compared to OPA’s caseload numbers.
- The PDA has been budgeted for a sufficient number of attorneys for its caseload under prevailing professional standards, but faces significant recruitment and retention challenges, particularly in regional offices.
- In the past 2 fiscal years, the PDA has $1,953,900 in additional appropriations, including 18 positions, most of which was funded under Governor Dunleavy.
“The PDA actively cooperated with DOA in their review of the Agency’s workloads, management, and operations,” said Sam Cherot, Public Defender. “In my new role as Public Defender, I am committed to considering the findings and recommendations of this report, and the part they may play in the development of long-term solutions and goals for the Agency.”
An audit conducted by the Alaska Division of Legislative Audit in 1998 found that PDA was understaffed, but that its staffing shortage may be covered, in part, with the addition of lower paid positions, such as investigators, paralegals, legal secretaries, and other clerical positions. It also concluded that bringing PDA up-to-date technologically would add efficiencies that would further address understaffing issues.
The Department of Administration has made 17 recommendations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the PDA. These recommendations include that the PDA improve accuracy of caseload reporting; develop a uniform definition of “case” that is consistent with OPA’s; require attorneys to regularly track time; maximize hiring to full complement; create a separate siloed unit in Anchorage; improve retention and recruitment; utilize paralegals and support staff to their full potential; and improve technology.
The full review of the Alaska Public Defender Agency can be read here. (pdf)
Edited by Mary Kauffman, SitNews
Source of News:
Alaska Department of Administration
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