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Fl. Supreme Court Hears Public Defender Workload Debate

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(Source: AP)

(Source: AP)

TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami) – The battle between the workload faced by Miami-Dade’s Public Defender and his right to say “no” to some new cases hit Florida’s Supreme Court today, and the our come could possibly change the way the poor get access to legal services.

The court held oral arguments Thursday morning on the case brought by Miami-Dade public defender Carlos Martinez for problems in Miami-Dade county, but the decision the court makes could have wide ranging effects across the budget-strapped state.

Miami-Dade’s public defender ended up in court over efforts to rejected certain kinds of cases, including thousands of lesser third-degree felony cases such as auto theft, forgery and battery.

Martinez blames budget cuts, staffing cuts, and a shortage of lawyers to handle what he has called a crushing workload.

His office hands so many cases attorneys representing the poor have so many cases they can;t keep up with representing everyone, resulting in delays and the potential for poor service for the public defenders’ indigent clients.

A lower court rejected his request to simply reject some classes of cases, sending the issue to the Florida Supreme Court for final decision.

The state has fought the attempt to withdraw from cases, saying in part that the public defender’s workload was not so large that it endangered the rights of criminal defendants to get adequate representation.

Both sides made their case Thursday. There is no indication when the court could make its decision.

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