EDITORIAL: Prescription for the court

“The first thing we do, kill all the lawyers!”

–Dick the Butcher

Academics debate – when don’t they? — to find out whether Shakespeare is confusing the legal profession or defending it. Did Shakespeare say his country would be better off without all those lawyers? Or was it the “implied praise” of the legal profession, which keeps the crowd from its mob justice, given who speaks the line?

Our bet is a bit of both. Shakespeare often succeeded in this.

Lawyer jokes aside (and there’s a part of us that loves a good lawyer joke), it’s important to remember the role that lawyers are trained to play: that of a breakwater against the tide of injustice. If that sounds too elitist, call it an obligation to keep things legit.

We find that people who appear in court don’t tell a lot of lawyer jokes, but instead rely on their lawyer to be a real pro.

As in all professions, you take the good with the bad and hope to cash in every day in the dark.

In today’s near post-covid world, we need more lawyers. Really.

Well, some lawyers. For example, in the Arkansas criminal justice system.

Prosecutors and public defenders are grappling with huge backlogs of cases, and new ones are slipping through the cracks in the door every day.

The newspaper reported this week that one of the impacts of covid, which flew under the radar as the pandemic raged, is more than lingering. He clings on tight. The criminal justice system in Arkansas — and everywhere — is bogged down by backlogs that were put on hold while the world was quarantined.

And, as human nature has repeatedly demonstrated, crime doesn’t take a vacation. Any progress made on old cases is quickly overtaken by the number of new cases arriving like letters to Santa Claus.

The courts need more legal doctors.

In March, the state provided $1 million each to the Arkansas Public Defender’s Commission and the Coordinator of the State’s Attorney’s Office to appoint attorneys for temporary assistance. Four months later, it was clear that the infusion was not enough, and the state diverted an additional $4.5 million from federal covid relief to extend those appointments.

In some districts of Arkansas, the extra help has been just that, and in a big way. In others, where interested lawyers are harder to find, the help has simply allowed the already overdue local courts to tread water.

Public defenders for the Sixth Judicial District, which covers Pulaski and Perry counties, were handling an average of 120 active cases at any time before covid, the newspaper said. Once the pandemic took hold, the number of cases quadrupled. A district attorney was reportedly responsible for more than 800 open cases.

How is a lawyer going to manage 800 cases?

In Benton County, rapid growth has further strained the system. Reports say the prosecutor’s and public defender’s offices have managed to hire enough part-time attorneys to slow the onslaught, but the pressure is taking its toll.

The recruitment of new blood is essential. And the pressure is heavier on the side of public defenders, where the pay is worse. (This is reminiscent of one of the legal profession’s token golf partners: In Arkansas, the medical profession struggled with a shortage of doctors willing to move to rural Arkansas, where the pay is lower and the rewards fortunately, new osteopaths in state medical schools are helping to remedy this shortage.)

Jay Saxton, Benton County’s chief public defender, told the newspaper that the typical caseload for one of his attorneys far exceeds the recommendation of 150 felony cases per year, as set by the National Advisory Commission. on criminal justice standards.

Mr. Saxton’s team manages its workload by visiting clients in prison on weekends and bringing work home in the evenings.

“It’s just a normal habit for us,” he said, noting that such a workload is not bearable for long. “That’s why public defenders’ offices lose their public defenders pretty quickly; it’s because it’s grueling work.” And it was already the case, pre-covid.

Many Arkansans have no choice but to continue to wait for justice. Frontline heroes in courthouses are doing their part, but there’s not much they can do without new blood and money to pay for those legal white blood cells.

Unless we can count on the Americans to stop breaking the law, to stop suing each other, to stop needing legal representation in a pinch, and to make sure that all law enforcement authorities law enforcement are perfect. . . .

Lord, what fools these mortals are.

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About Alex S. Crone

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