The public defense lawsuit filed by ACLU Idaho has been dismissed, according to the Idaho court repository. You can view District Judge Samuel Hoagland’s decision here.
The ACLU filed the lawsuit against the state in June 2015, charging the state’s system of public defense didn’t meet constitutional muster. Currently, Idaho’s 44 counties are in charge of providing legal defense for those who can’t afford lawyers, but critics say some counties fail to provide adequate defense.
In his decision, Hoagland concurred there are problems with Idaho’s public defense system, but said the plaintiff cited examples only from a handful of Idaho counties — even though the entire state of Idaho was sued on grounds that the whole system is flawed.
Hoagland also said while Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter and the Idaho Legislature have influence over the counties and can help them fix public defense inadequacies, the courts don’t have the authority to compel either party to solve the individual problems.
“The connection of the claimed injury to the Governor and the PDC are too remote to be fairly traceable,” Hoagland wrote. “Neither has the power and authority to act alone to address the Plaintiff’s grievances. Certainly, both have moral, political, and public power to pressure the legislature or the counties to act, but neither have the ability to require it.”
Hoagland did not agree with the state, however, that Otter or the legislature are immune from lawsuits over the issue.
“The Governor has a duty to ensure the Constitution and laws are enforced in Idaho. The governor also has direct supervisory authority over those responsible to establish standards for a constitutionally sound public defense system,” he wrote. “The fact that the legislature has delegated public defender services to individual counties does not abdicate the Defendants’ responsibility to indigent criminal defendants in the state of Idaho. Accordingly, the court finds that the Governor and the PDC members are subject to suit.”
Hoagland’s dismissal happened around the time the Idaho Legislature’s Public Defense Reform Interim Committee met again to go over details of a public defense reform proposal.
Lawmakers on the committee have said in the past that no matter what happens with the ACLU lawsuit, they aim to make changes to the public defense system in Idaho, including having uniform standards and training for public defenders and providing more resources for counties.
“This dismissal of the lawsuit will not put a stop to the work of the interim committee. The state had every plan to go forward with public defense improvement,” said Rep. Christy Perry, co-chair of the interim public defense committee. “What it may do is now open up a better dialogue, actually, between those who are seeking change and those who are trying to implement it.”
ACLU Idaho released this statement:
“We haven’t seen the official decision, but everybody knows this lawsuit is going to have multiple chapters. Idahoans deserve their 6th amendment rights, and we at the ACLU of Idaho will continue to stay aggressive as we have been to protect those rights.”
Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s office had no comment at this time.