All data is current as of 2013, unless otherwise noted.
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How the right to counsel is administered and structured
Branch of government: judicial
The Oregon Public Defense Services Commission was established in 2001 as an independent body in the judicial branch responsible for overseeing and administering the delivery of right to counsel services in each of Oregon’s counties. The Chief Justice appoints all seven members. The commission is statutorily responsible for promulgating standards regarding the quality, effectiveness, and efficiency by which public counsel services are provided.
The commission’s central Office of Public Defense Services handles the day-to-day management of the system.
How the right to counsel is funded
Percentage of local funding: 0%
Percentage of alternative funding: 0%
The methods used to provide public counsel
Oregon is the only statewide system in the country that relies entirely on contracts to deliver public defense services. The statewide Office of Public Defense Services contracts with private not-for-profit law firms (which look and operate much like public defender agencies, with full-time attorneys and substantive support personnel on staff), smaller local law firms, individual private attorneys, and consortia of private attorneys working together.
The contracts are the enforcement mechanism for the state’s standards, with specific performance criteria written directly into the contracts. Should any law office or attorney fail to comply with their contractual obligations, their contract simply will not be renewed.
Importantly, the contracts set a precise total number of cases each contractor will handle during the contracting period, thereby ensuring that attorneys have sufficient time to fulfill the state’s performance criteria. But more than that alone, the contracts safeguard the local service providers by allocating among that annual total the specific number of cases of each type the attorney can handle, according to the number of hours generally required to meet the performance demands of that type of case. In other words, the Oregon system is built around the concept of “workload” by assigning “weights” to specific types of cases, adjusted for availability of non-attorney support staff and other non-representational duties (such as travel or attending CLE).
Each service provider’s workload is tracked on an ongoing basis, down to the week in fact, enabling the contract defenders to accurately predict when they will reach their workload maximum for a given month, all the while keeping the local court informed. In practice, a service provider can project, for example, that he will reach his maximum allowed number of cases on a Tuesday and will inform the court that he will be declaring unavailability starting Wednesday and onward through the end of week. With all stakeholders kept informed, there are no surprises – the extra cases are simply assigned to one of the other service providers available in that county under contract with the Office of Public Defense Services.
Source of data: original research conducted by Sixth Amendment Center staff, augmented by information included in the membership directory of the Oregon Criminal Defense Lawyers Association.