At a Glance (as of 2013)
Percentage of state funding: 100%
Percentage of local funding: 0%
Percentage of alternative funding: 0%
State commission: yes
Branch of government: judicial
Structure & Funding of Indigent Defense Services
The Oregon Public Defender 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. With all funding for direct services provided by the state, the commission’s central Office of Public Defense Services handles the day-to-day management of the system.
Oregon is the only statewide system in the country that relies on entirely contracts for the delivery of public defense services. The statewide office lets individual contracts with private not-for-profit law firms (which look and operate much like the public defender agencies of many counties 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 actual contracts are the enforcement mechanism for the state’s standards, with specific performance criteria written directly into the contracts. Should any non-profit firm or group of attorneys fail to comply with their contractual obligations, the contract simply will not be renewed.
Importantly, the contracts also 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 cases among that annual total across case types according to the number of hours generally required to meet the performance demands of each type of case. In other words, rather than controlling attorney caseloads, 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 maximums for a given month, all the while keeping the local court informed. In practice, a service provider can project that it will reach its maximum allowed under the contract on a Tuesday and will inform the court it 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.
OR Rev. Stat. § 151.010 through 151.505
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.