Budget crisis means D.C. public defenders won’t work on Wednesdays this summer – NBC4 Washington

A budget crisis is forcing the DC Public Defender Service to make the “difficult” decision to lay off all of their employees one day a week this summer. This includes 120 attorneys representing D.C.’s indigent defendants, clients who have been called among the “most vulnerable” in the District by the Public Defender Service.

The leave was outlined in a letter sent last week to the chief judge of the DC Superior Court and several other criminal justice agencies in DC, News4 has confirmed.

According to its most recent annual report, the DC Public Defender Service (PDS) handles thousands of cases in DC courts each year. They represent people accused of all levels of crime, people with mental health issues, juvenile cases, and people who also appear in appellate and civil courts.

Although not a federal agency, the PDS is funded by appropriations from Congress.

According to their most recent budget submission, that could be $3 million of their $59.5 million budget only will be used for a move this year. The agency recently moved, and at this time News4 has learned that PDS no longer needs that money to move. They need it for salaries – but since the money came from Congress, the problem won’t be solved without a literal act of Congress.

News4 is not aware of any ongoing action by Congress to resolve the budget problem.

According to the PDS budget, posted online, 70% of the agency’s expenditure goes on personnel. That’s the only place they can really save money.

Their solution is to fire employees one day a week. Most of their 120 lawyers get an unpaid day off every Wednesday from mid-June to mid-September. Some take another day off. No one is immune from the leave.

In the letter to the Superior Court and several other DC agencies, Heather N. Pinckney, the agency’s director, explained: “As a result of the weekly office closure, PDS attorneys will not be able to appear before any court in any case. , including initial appearances, preliminary hearings and trials… This decision to close was difficult to make, but is necessary due to the unprecedented circumstances the agency is facing.”

The furloughs will mean even more delays at the D.C. Superior Court, where the most serious criminal cases have already taken nearly two years to resolve, court records show.

A spokesperson for the court told us on Thursday: “The Court is doing everything we can to deliver fair and timely justice in light of this recent news, but we will clearly be stymied in cases where there is no lawyer present to represent their clients .”

“This is another significant bump in the road in the Superior Court’s efforts to deliver fair and timely justice… coupled with the critical vacancies in the judiciary that impact the Court and those we serve,” said the spokesman.

As News4 has reported in the past, 13 of the 62 Supreme Court judge posts are vacant. This will also require an act of Congress – specifically the US Senate.

Eleven nominees are making their way through the Senate for confirmation, but some have been waiting for months. There is no date for a confirmation vote.