Judge dismisses ACLU public defense lawsuit

Posted at 11:58 AM, Jan 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-22 18:09:02-05

BOISE, Idaho (AP) -- An Idaho judge has dismissed a lawsuit against the state seeking to improve the public defense system in Idaho.

Fourth District Judge Samuel Hoagland issued his ruling Thursday.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho sued the state in June contending that state officials have known for years that Idaho's public defense system was broken and prevented defendants from receiving adequate legal representation guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Though the ACLU has brought similar cases over public defense systems in parts of Michigan, Washington state and other regions, attorneys on the Idaho lawsuit say it's the first such case against an entire state.

A spokesman for Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter declined to comment.

Idaho is one of just three states that don't provide funding for public defense.

Leo Morales, Executive Director of the ACLU of Idaho, had this comment:

“We will appeal this decision. We disagree with the court that it has no role in deciding the fate of our constitutional right to adequate representation.

“But we agree with the court in one key respect: Idaho’s system of public defense is a failure, one that the governor and the Public Defense Commission have the power — and duty — to fix.

“All branches of government must work to ensure that Idahoans can exercise their constitutional right to an attorney when they can’t afford one. We are as committed as ever to fight in the courts, the counties, and the legislature to guarantee the Sixth Amendment is available to all Idahoans.”