District judge approves ACLU's lawsuit over defective public defense system as a class action

Posted at 5:21 PM, Jan 31, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-31 19:35:44-05

It’s been three years since the American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho filed a lawsuit against the Gem State for inadequately funding its public defense system. Now, a district judge has ruled the case worthy of a class action lawsuit. 

The ACLU of Idaho says the state’s public defense system is broken, and it took the state to court to prove it.

“In Idaho, for years now, we’ve actually had an issue with regards to representation that we believe has been lacking in part, because of the inadequate resources from the state,” said Leo Morales, Executive Director of ACLU of Idaho.

Morales says there are too few public defenders and not enough funding or resources to ensure those who need a public defense are receiving adequate representation. 

“That’s what it really falls down to,” Morales said. “It’s a sixth amendment right to counsel.” 

Recently, a district judge ruled the lawsuit, originally filed in 2015, can move forward as a class action.

The new status, experts explain, means more plaintiffs who say they’ve received deficient representation can be included in the lawsuit.

“Once class certification happens, usually the next step is settlement,” said Katherine Macfarlane, Associate Professor of Law at the University of Idaho. “So here, plaintiffs have more power than they ever have at any stage in this case.”

Macfarlane says this lawsuit has the possibility to enact sweeping reform in the state’s public defense system.

“There could be more money, there could be more attorneys, and there could be a little less county control,” Macfarlane said. 

And for the ACLU of Idaho, that means an equal playing field for everyone.

“Because the prosecutor’s office is strong, we should also have a public defender office that also has the adequate resources to adequately defend their clients, as well,” Morales said. 

Under the court’s ruling, anyone in Idaho with a pending charge against them who cannot afford an attorney is now part of the class action.

For more information about the class action, contact the ACLU of Idaho.