What do you do if your public defender is not working on your case? 52 Answers as of July 11, 2013

My husband is currently incarcerated on serious felony charges he has been assigned a public defender whom he has only had contact with briefly for the five minutes he appears in court. He has written several letters asking him to come and discuss his case as well as multiple phone calls from myself to discuss the case he does not return the calls. When asked what his plan for defense is, he just says wait and see what the offer is. He is unaware of many of the facts of the case and often seems confused what I ask him about witness statements or police reports I am often given the answer I was unaware of that or I don’t know I’ll be in touch with you but never see him again until the next court date. I understand that Public defenders are extremely busy and I cannot afford to hire an attorney but I am afraid that my husband is not being given the defense he is entitled to. What should we do?

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Lowenstein Law Office
Lowenstein Law Office | Anthony Lowenstein
It depends on several factors.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 8/4/2011
A.L.A. Law Group, LLP
A.L.A. Law Group, LLP | Lauren M. Mayfield
You should speak with private criminal defense attorneys right away. Many offer free consultations and can answer many of the questions about your husband's case for you. Also, you should inquire if the private attorneys offer payment plans or payment on credit cards because this may ease the burden of payment. If he is facing serious charges and you are not satisfied with counsel you need to try to get him a new attorney right away before the case gets too old and the judge is less inclined to substitute counsel.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 8/3/2011
The Law Office of Kevin O'Grady
The Law Office of Kevin O'Grady | Kevin O'Grady
If you are unhappy with a public defender, you always have the option of hiring an attorney. You can switch to a private counsel or from one private counsel to another. Switching public defender's however is very difficult. You do not necessarily have the right to a court appointed attorney that satisfies your desires when it comes to representation.
Answer Applies to: Hawaii
Replied: 7/31/2011
Edward  D. Dowling IV Attorney at Law
Edward D. Dowling IV Attorney at Law | Edward D. Dowling IV
This response is general information only and does not establish an attorney client relationship. However, your husband should express these concerns to the public defender and if no satisfaction then express it to the court and request a court date to address the issue of possibluy the judge assigning some one else.
Answer Applies to: New York
Replied: 7/28/2011
Wallin & Klarich: A Law Corporation
Wallin & Klarich: A Law Corporation | Paul Wallin
At very minimum you should find the money to come in and have an experienced criminal defense lawyer review the police report and tell you what should be done and put that in writing. Then your husband should show that list to the public defender and if he refuses to do those things your husband can bring a Marsden hearing to ask that the court appoint a different lawyer. The problem as you already know is that in 2011 the public defenders are swamped in most areas with cases and it is difficult for them to provide your husband the defense he may need.
Answer Applies to: California
Replied: 7/28/2011
    Eric M. Mark, Attorney at Law
    Eric M. Mark, Attorney at Law | Eric Mark
    You only have two choices. Deal with the public defender or hire an attorney. Sometimes you need to sacrifice other things to hire a lawyer if that is what's most important. You have to get your priorities in order and try. Depending on the charges, location, and you, a lawyer may negotiate a fee or a payment plan.
    Answer Applies to: New Jersey
    Replied: 7/28/2011
    Freeborn Law Offices, P.S.
    Freeborn Law Offices, P.S. | Steve Freeborn
    Don't short change the public defender. He may be working the case without your knowledge, and to some extent that of your husband. You don't say what the charges are that your husband is dealing with, or what type of evidence there is against your husband. The PD may also be reluctant to discuss the details of the case with you because of confidentiality issues. It may also be that your husband's case is not a very good case and the PD is trying to work the best deal possible under the circumstances. If you are uncomfortable with the PD, you may have no other choice, or try to amass the funds necessary to hire a private attorney.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 7/28/2011
    Law Office of Jared Altman
    Law Office of Jared Altman | Jared Altman
    Document you complaints in letters to the public defender and if you get no satisfaction then ask the judge to assign a different attorney.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 7/27/2011
    Law Offices of George Woodworth & Associates
    Law Offices of George Woodworth & Associates | George Woodworth
    This is a big problem in our Court system right now. Because of budget and staff cuts, the already burdened Public Defender's office has been overwhelmed by their huge case load, and I hear stories like yours over and over again. It is unacceptable and you need to take action right away. If you can't get his Supervisor to make this Public Defender properly represent your husband, then do what you can to find an Attorney who will. Many Criminal Defense Lawyers will work with you on fees and payment plans. This is just too important to let negligence decide your husband's fate.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 7/27/2011
    Timothy J. Thill P.C.
    Timothy J. Thill P.C. | Timothy J. Thill
    Hire a private attorney. I seriously doubt that the court will assign another PD to handle the case. Understand that public defenders are indeed extremely busy, and do not have the time that a private attorney could and would give to the case, so you will have to put your trust and confidence in the PD currently assigned to his case.
    Answer Applies to: Illinois
    Replied: 7/27/2011
    Jules N. Fiani, Attorney at Law
    Jules N. Fiani, Attorney at Law | Jules Fiani
    Hire your own lawyer.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 7/27/2011
    Gregory Casale Attorney at Law
    Gregory Casale Attorney at Law | Gregory Casale
    Hire a private attorney.
    Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
    Replied: 7/27/2011
    Jonathan S. Willett Attorney at Law
    Jonathan S. Willett Attorney at Law | Jonathan S. Willett
    Public Defenders are very busy. Maybe this is an explanation. If not, ask to speak to his supervisor or hire a private attorney.
    Answer Applies to: Colorado
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Palumbo and Kosofsky
    Palumbo and Kosofsky | Michael Palumbo
    You always get better service if you retain counsel.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Law Office of Andrew Subin
    Law Office of Andrew Subin | Andrew Subin
    You can ask to speak to the public defender's supervisor. Your husband can explain his concerns to the judge next time he's in court. You can hire an attorney.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Law Office of Roianne H. Conner
    Law Office of Roianne H. Conner | Roianne Houlton Conner
    You can make an appointment with the lawyer and express your dissatisfaction.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Michael Breczinski
    Michael Breczinski | Michael Breczinski
    First is to find out about the attorney. Some attorneys can be great but don't communicate well. Some are not good attorneys. Have you made an appointment with him to sit down and discuss the case? Trying to catch an attorney on the phone or in a hallway is not the best way to talk to him. He may not have his file or he could be thinking about something else. If I get a call from out of the blue asking about a case, I often can't answer questions without refering to the file.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Thomas J. Tomko Attorney At law
    Thomas J. Tomko Attorney At law | Thomas J. Tomko
    Thank you for your inquiry In the most extreme case, you could ask the judge to assign a new attorney. However, there is not guarantee that the new attorney will be an improvement over what you experience. Keep in mind that the attorney is responsive to the client, not the client's wife. If the attorney were to respond to numerous phone calls from spouses, family, friends, etc, it would be overwhelming and not productive. All of the discussions between the attorney and the client are confidential. Therefore, a phone conversation with a spouse is almost never as informative as you might like. Also, there is the question of strategy. Some of the things that may be very important to the client or the client's family, may simply not be that important in the defense strategy of the case. Where the evidence is overwhelming, negotiation of a favorable plea may be the best path of inquiry. The facts of each case vary, and so does the efficient way to address concerns. In the best of worlds, the attorney can answer all of the questions and there will be no frustration. In the best situation, you should retain an attorney to represent him. Without this, you are left with an appointed attorney and some frustrations. I hope that this was helpful
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 8/4/2011
    Craig W. Elhart, P.C.
    Craig W. Elhart, P.C. | Craig Elhart
    A public defender has the same obligations to represent a client as an attorney you may hire. If the public defender is not doing his job, you could always hire your own attorney. Otherwise, you husband could bring the matter to the attention of the court arguing that he is receiving ineffective assistance of counsel.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Law Offices of John Carney
    Law Offices of John Carney | John Carney
    You get what you pay for...and you paid nothing for your free lawyer. You should sell your car and everything else you have and retain a good criminal attorney or your husband may end up in prison...he may end up there anyway, but at least you will have a fighting chance. I f you cannot afford an attorney go to the public defender's office and ask nicely to have him visit him in jail, provide a copy of the file, and return your calls. Make notes of all of this and when you went there, when you talked to him, and what e said. Then if he does nothing you can have your husband make a motion to get another lawyer...they have the motions in every jail or you can just make an oral motion in court based on his refusal to do those three things after a few weeks.
    Answer Applies to: New York
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh
    Law Office of Jeff Yeh | Jeff Yeh
    PD's simply have way too many cases to stay focused on any one case. Time to hire a competent private attorney!
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Law Office of Richard Williams
    Law Office of Richard Williams | Richard Williams
    If you choose to accept the services of a public defender you have no choice in the attorney selected to provide the representation. There is little, if anything, that you can do.
    Answer Applies to: Alabama
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Potter Law Offices
    Potter Law Offices | Cal J. Potter, III, Esq.
    You should contact the supervisor.
    Answer Applies to: Nevada
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Frances R. Johnson
    Frances R. Johnson | Frances R. Johnson
    He should not plead guilty to anything offered unless he completely understands the plea, all of his questions are answered, and he believes it is the best option. He can also let the judge know when he goes to court (and is in front of the judge with the DA present) that he hasn't had enough time/advice from his attorney, has not discussed possible defenses, has not had his issues investigated, etc. The most important thing is to not plead guilty if he does not feel he has had not received adequate advice to make sure the court is aware of it.
    Answer Applies to: Colorado
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Apple Law Firm PLLC
    Apple Law Firm PLLC | David Goldman
    You can ask to speak to their supservisor and you are always free to hire a private lawyer. If they are not doing what is required, you can also discuss this with the state bar association.
    Answer Applies to: Florida
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Law Offices of Martina A. Vigil, PC
    Law Offices of Martina A. Vigil, PC | Martina A. Vigil
    Unfortunately, you are correct in the statement that public defenders are extremely busy. Even though public defenders are qualified to handle the cases they are assigned; it is difficult to personalize every case that comes across their desk because of the case load. A private attorney really is the way to go when being charged with a serious crime. If you do not have the means to hire a private attorney, do some work and interview some attorneys in your area. It's likely that you can find an attorney that you can afford. Some private counsel offer their services at a reduced rate.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Attorney at Law
    Attorney at Law | Michael J. Kennedy
    Have husband ask for Marsden hearing on ground of ineffectiveness, but be careful. Sometimes the attorney's direction to dismissal is so clear to him he does not need to discuss with client and every bit of hand-holding attorneys do cuts into their finite time for working on the case.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Harden Law Offices
    Harden Law Offices | Leonard D. Harden
    If you are unhappy with PD even after attempting to fix that relationship you may be forced to seek a differenct attorney. The court may permit PD to withdraw if attorney client relationship has deteriorated to such a point that there is no trust. Sadly court may appoint a contract counsel who may or may not be more involved. If you have no funds that is your best option. If you have funds to hire private counsel find the best in the area and make an appointment to meet. I routinely meet with folks incarcerated and am sure any competent defense lawyer in your area would do the same. Good luck.
    Answer Applies to: New Hampshire
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    The Law Office of Harry E. Hudson, Jr. | Harry E. Hudson, Jr.
    You are correct about public attorneys and their schedules. Sometimes you just need to slow down the pace. Sometimes "your" case is not yet at the top and the PD seem a bit unsure as cases at substantive hearings have the attention and focus. Your husband might ask the court to relieve your husband's attorney and appoint a new one. That will result in a hearing. You might also write / call the attorney's supervisor.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Correia-Champa & Mailhot
    Correia-Champa & Mailhot | Susan Correia Champa
    My suggestion is that your Husband report his dissatisfaction to the Judge. If the Judge maybe able to appoint someone else to your Husband's case.
    Answer Applies to: Massachusetts
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Law Office of Sean Patrick Walsh
    Law Office of Sean Patrick Walsh | Sean Patrick Walsh
    If you are unhappy with a public defender you should seek a free consultation with a private defense attorney.
    Answer Applies to: Idaho
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Austin Legal Services, PLC
    Austin Legal Services, PLC | Jared Austin
    Public Defenders do have tremendous case loads and normally do not have the time to spend with their clients that either they or their clients would like. However, they are expected to keep their Clients informed off any and all progress and to at least be familiar with the case and what's in the police reports, etc. He could try making a motion to have a new counsel appointed, but judges rarely grant those unless there are serious problems. But if it's reaching a point to where he is not communicating, communicating effectively, or seemingly doing anything at all regarding the case, it may have to come to that. Your husband is entitled to effective representation. Perhaps consider calling up his superior at the Public Defender's office and speak with them with your concerns.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Miller & Harrison, LLC
    Miller & Harrison, LLC | David Harrison
    The public defender will no doubt ultimately eventually work very hard on the case, but you might be surprised at your ability to afford a private lawyer if you want to.
    Answer Applies to: Colorado
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Beaulier Law Office
    Beaulier Law Office | Maury Beaulier
    His options are limited. He can find the funds to hire private counsel. He may try to contact the person in charge of the public defenders office and seek a replacement.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 7/26/2011
    Nelson & Lawless
    Nelson & Lawless | Terry Nelson
    You already answered your question. Hire private counsel, or try to talk to the PD office about getting a substitute for your current PD if you can show he is actually not working. I doubt that is true, or at least not in the eyes of the Supervising PD. Remember, the PD is not paid by our tax dollars to hold your hand through the process, that is what people pay private counsel for. The PD may have dozens of cases on calendar each day, with little time to even read the file, let alone go visit the jail on each of those dozens of cases. If the case actually gets seriously set for trial, there will be more attention given it, by PD and investigators.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 7/25/2011
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg
    Law Office of Eric Sterkenburg | Eric Sterkenburg
    In a situation like this you cannot request an other public defender. Most public defenders are good and have the advantage of working the same courthouse all the time, so they know the people to deal with. It is not unusual for then not to discuss a case with a family member as there is a rule of confidence with them and the client. That said your only options are to talk with his superior or hire a private attorney.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 7/25/2011
    Michael Maltby, Attorney at Law
    Michael Maltby, Attorney at Law | Michael Maltby
    As you said public defenders are often have too many cases on there plate.Hiring a private attorney is usually your best option and, if you can, borrow the money or otherwise try to make payment arrangements with a private attorney . Otherwise, keep after your public defender and go above his/her head if necessary. It is your husband's and your future on the line and now is not the time for somebody to drop the ball. Good luck.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 7/25/2011
    Vermeulen Law office P.A.
    Vermeulen Law office P.A. | Cynthia J.Vermeulen
    Your husband's case is unfortunately not unusual, as public defenders are often very busy and spend limited time on each case. There is no easy solution. You said you cannot afford to hire a private attorney. Your husband faces serious felony charges, for which he may face extensive jail or prison time. The most important thing you need to bear in mind is that you cannot do this case over if it is not handled properly the first time. There is no second chance. Your husband's freedom and future are on the line. While I don't know the nature of his charges, felony charges are serious and a conviction may affect his life permanently. He cannot afford not to have an attorney who knows about the intricate details of his case, has talked with him and gotten to know the issues and angles of his case. It is worth seeking to borrow funds from a relative or friend to hire an attorney. In addition, you don't know what a private attorney will cost until you contact some private attorneys and discuss their experience, as well as their fees. They may be able to make payment arrangements with you which are agreeable. If your only option financially is the public defender's office, you will not be able to get a different public defender; you may lodge a complaint or inquiry with the supervising public defender or chief public defender of the district.
    Answer Applies to: Minnesota
    Replied: 7/25/2011
    Law Office of Phillip Weiser
    Law Office of Phillip Weiser | Phillip L. Weiser
    You have the right to make a complaint to the attorney's supervisor if he is in a State Public Defender's office. If he is a private attorney who has been appointed by the court, you can make a complaint to the Judge and ask for a different lawyer. If the Judge will not replace him, you can file a formal complaint with the State disciplinary Office in Topeka.
    Answer Applies to: Kansas
    Replied: 7/25/2011
    Law Office of Michael Morgan, l.L.C.
    Law Office of Michael Morgan, l.L.C. | Michael Morgan
    I think the first thing to do is to speak to the lawyer's supervisor and discuss your concerns.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 7/25/2011
    Law Offices of Sean Logue
    Law Offices of Sean Logue | Sean Logue
    Hire private counsel; if you can't afford that, complain to his boss; and if that doesn't work write a letter to the judge.
    Answer Applies to: Pennsylvania
    Replied: 7/25/2011
    Goolsby Law Office
    Goolsby Law Office | Richard Goolsby
    We recommend that you make an appointment with the attorney to discuss your issues and concerns. Otherwise, you could talk with family and friends to see if you can raise funds to retain a criminal lawyer. Good luck.
    Answer Applies to: Georgia
    Replied: 7/25/2011
    Law Office of Robert L Keates, PLLC
    Law Office of Robert L Keates, PLLC | Robert Keates
    Most courts will not substitute one court appointed lawyer for another. You may be able to find an attorney that is willing to work on a payment plan. With a deposit, you can often pay the remaining balance on a monthly payment plan.
    Answer Applies to: Texas
    Replied: 7/25/2011
    Furlong & Drewniak PLLC
    Furlong & Drewniak PLLC | Thaddeus Furlong, Esq.
    The old saying, you get what you pay for may apply here. Retained lawyers are paid to represent a client and therefore, have a financial incentive to provide more responsive service. Often, but not always, young lawyers start out learning criminal defense work by joining a prosecutor's office or a local county public defender's office. After learning what to do they usually leave these beginning legal positions after a few years and enter the private sector as experienced defense attorneys whom clients seek out. The case loads of most public defender lawyers are huge and the pay is down at the bottom of states paying for such free lawyers. Virginia guarantees you a criminal lawyer if you cannot afford one, it does NOT necessarily give you the lawyer of your choice. If you want a lawyer that may be more responsive to your husbands case, we recommend you hire your own. There are strong attorneys in many public defender offices across Virginia, and they do a good service in defending, to the extent they have the time and limited resources, clients who would otherwise have no lawyer. You might also consider contacting the senior public defender lawyer in the office that is handling your husband's case.
    Answer Applies to: Virginia
    Replied: 7/25/2011
    Andersen Law PLLC
    Andersen Law PLLC | Craig Andersen
    Most of your best solutions cost money. First I would consider hiring a private attorney. Secondly, I would hire a private investigator to interview witnesses and cops. Other than that, the Constitutional requirement for public defense is dismal. Other ideas would be talking with the attorney's supervisor and or the court. Ultimately it is up to the court to ensure your husband is properly and effectively represented. I would caution you about doing much of anything until the attorney receives the prosecutor's offer since 95 percent of criminal cases plead out. However, if there is evidence that exculpates (makes your husband not guilty or less guilty, that would probably improve the prosecutor's offer or result in a dismissal. So if you or your husband are aware of any of that, write the attorney a letter including the information.
    Answer Applies to: Washington
    Replied: 7/25/2011
    Laguzzi Law, P.C.
    Laguzzi Law, P.C. | Carina Laguzzi
    The reason the attorney may not be returning your calls is because of the attorney-client privilege that precludes him from talking about the details of the case with you. However, it sounds as if your husband has not been able to tell the attorney important information about the case. I would advise that your husband write his attorney and keep a copy of the letter for himself. Worst case scenario, your husband may request another attorney but that may cause him to have to go to the Court which should really be a last resort. Have him write the attorney detailed letters which can may be able to help the attorney formulate a defense.
    Answer Applies to: Pennsylvania
    Replied: 7/25/2011
    Law Offices of Matthew Murillo
    Law Offices of Matthew Murillo | Matthew Murillo
    This is a complaint I often hear about Public Defenders. A criminal defendant is entitled to a competent attorney, nothing more. That means that the public defender does not "have to" return every phone call, or work for 5 hours on someone case every day, etc. It is unfortunate, but that is the reality of the public defender's office. Many are excellent attorneys, they are just over-worked and have large caseloads, which can mean that some people do not get the type of attention their case deserves. It sounds like your husband is in this position. Please keep in mind that, when someone hire's a private attorney, that is essentially what they are paying for. A private attorney doesnt work for the court/government. They are paid by their clients to evaluate the case and represent them, giving the case and client the proper attention. If your husband is asking his public defender to visit him in custody, that will NOT happen. Public Defenders just can't do that. I suggest you at least consult with some attorneys in your area to see what they charge, and if they offer payment plans. Some private criminal defense attorneys will. You never know if you can hire an attorney until you know how much they charge. If you absolutely cannot hire an attorney, you can request a "Marsden" hearing, where your husband can ask the judge to change his public defender. Good luck!
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 7/25/2011
    The Law Office of Lewis R. Rosenblum
    The Law Office of Lewis R. Rosenblum | Lewis Rosenblum
    I would give him the opportunity to sit down and speak with you to work out the issue or contact his supervisor and explain the problems you are having. You may want to consider taking out a loan if you continue to be unhappy as it sounds like there is a lot at stake.
    Answer Applies to: California
    Replied: 7/25/2011
    Gutin and Wolverton
    Gutin and Wolverton | Harley Gutin
    There are many private attorneys who are willing to work with you on payments.
    Answer Applies to: Florida
    Replied: 7/11/2013
    Atlanta Trial Lawyers Group
    Atlanta Trial Lawyers Group | James R. Haug
    Your only option is to hire an attorney or your husband can represent himself.
    Answer Applies to: Georgia
    Replied: 7/25/2011
    Klisz Law Office, PLLC
    Klisz Law Office, PLLC | Timothy J. Klisz
    Hire a private attorney. You have clearly outlined the problems with this public defender and you really have no other choice.
    Answer Applies to: Michigan
    Replied: 7/25/2011
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