Brian Sloan: Public defenders are attorneys. They graduated law school. Generally speaking, the public defender is either going to be the attorney who is verging on retirement and they decide to have a salary and just handle the clients that are given to them, or it’s going to be the brand new attorney out of law school who has no experience and wants to try to gain experience.
Unfortunately, a lot of this is going to be on the backs of their clients. They’re going to get their experience on the backs of their clients or they’re going to coast into retirement on the backs of their clients. Again, they do have legal backgrounds, but you’re getting usually the very new or in some ways, the tired people. Those are the public defenders.
In Maricopa County, you have the felony public defenders, which are salaried employees. They are basically going to get paid a certain salary to represent as many people as the office allows them to, and whether that person fights really hard or whether they are very lazy, whether they go to trial a lot or whether they don’t, whether they write lots of motions, whether they win, whether they lose, they get paid the same.
Are Public Defenders Held to a Lower Standard than a Private Attorney?
There tends to be a trend of laziness in the Public Defender’s Office because they can literally coast their entire career and just keep passing out plea agreements, and they’re going to get paid the same as the person that works really hard. Unfortunately, mediocrity is rewarded at the Public Defender’s Office.
Interviewer: I imagine that it’s probably a great deal more difficult to get a hold of them and it’s a lot less convenient. They’re a lot less flexible than a private attorney.
Brian Sloan: Absolutely. They are going to handle a high caseload. Usually they won’t give out their personal cell phone numbers. If you’re going to call because you have a question, you’re going to get an answering machine instead of a person and you may or may not get a call back. It’s a lot less service, as you might expect, from a governmental agency.
On a Flat Fee Basis, the Cities in Arizona Employ Private Attorneys as Public Defenders
Now, the cities have public defenders as well, and that is separate from the county public defender. The county is where they do a lot of felonies. The cities are where they do public defender contracts. So the cities do tend to have private attorneys on their public defender contract, but again, just kind of the way the system is set up, usually the people on the contract will get a certain amount of money to represent a client.
The Attorneys Are Compensated the Same Regardless if the Take the Case to Trial or Accept a Plea Bargain
There are some cities where the attorney is getting a hundred dollars to represent that client, and that hundred dollars is going to be yours whether you plea that person out or whether you read through the police report and talk to the person and write motions and argue motions and go to trial and fight a trial and try to win a case, either way, you’re getting the same fee.
Again, it is the nature of the beast, that many public defenders who are private attorneys but they are on this contract, get in the trend of, well, either way I’m going to get the hundred dollars, why am I going to put all this work into it? I’m just going to start pushing plea agreements.
The public defender, as a public defender, is not really going to provide the same level of service, for the most part, and generally speaking, as a private attorney. A public defender doesn’t necessarily care about that you think about them, where a private attorney wants referrals, they want testimonials, they want you to be happy and recommend them to your friends. They’re also getting paid to properly represent someone and make themselves available.
The Adage “You Get What You Pay For” Is True in the Area of DUI Defense
Interviewer: So it’s definitely, you get what you pay for situation?
Brian Sloan: Yes, that is true.