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Judge Lewis Continues His Work as the Co-chair of the National Right to Counsel Committee

On June 25, 2009 by Schnader in Appellate

Judge Timothy Lewis, co-chair of the firm’s Appellate Law Practice and co-chair of the National Right to Counsel Committee, was recognized by Attorney General Eric Holder as he commended The Constitution Project’s National Right to Counsel Committee Report, “Justice Denied” at the 2009 American Council of Chief Defenders Conference and Business Meeting on June 25. The Report, released in April 2009, details the endemic and systemic failures of the indigent defense system and recommends twenty-two specific and urgently needed reforms to fix them. “The Constitution Project has done excellent work in describing the state of indigent defense in its report, Justice Denied. As the report pointed out, many jurisdictions have made great progress in their public defense systems in recent years, but wholesale improvements remain elusive,” said Mr. Holder. During his opening remarks, Mr. Holder also highlighted the nation’s indigent defense crisis by noting the large resource disparity between public defender programs and other justice system programs. “It looks like this is really going to make a difference. I think Schnader’s contribution matters, and will matter to millions in the years to come,” said Judge Lewis.

Judge Lewis also co-authored an op-ed titled “S.F. Cannot Afford to Cut Public Defender’s Budget,” published in The San Francisco Examiner on June 25. Judge Lewis and his co-authors, Rhoda Billings, former Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, and Robert M.A. Johnson, district attorney for Anoka County, Minnesota, are the co-chairs of the National Right to Counsel Committee. Judge Lewis, Justice Billings, and Mr. Johnson wrote that proposed budget cuts to the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office threaten to exact a toll on the city that would greatly outweigh the fiscal benefits. In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court concluded that “lawyers in criminal courts are necessities, not luxuries.” The authors explain that San Francisco’s public defenders are each handling a caseload that is two to three times what a private attorney would reasonably be expected to manage, and that public defenders work long hours are not paid any overtime compensation. They believe that with such burdensome caseloads and work hours, the resources of the Public Defender’s Office are already stretched far beyond any reasonable limit. Any potential funding cut would only exacerbate the situation.