"I am the only candidate to offer new ideas for the office when announcing my intention to run for Public Defender. I believe these changes will benefit the clients, the employees, and the taxpayers who fund the office." Sean Conway
Some voters I meet ask why they should be concerned about the PD election? They point out that the office represents accused criminals, so why should they want the Public Defender and the attorneys in the office to be good trial lawyers?
These questions remind me of the words a seasoned prosecutor in Pensacola once told me over 20 years ago, when I was beginning to practice law. She mentioned that she welcomed an aggressive, experienced defense because it helped reduce the risk of innocent people being wrongly convicted. Most people in our society share her sentiment and, as Broward's next Public Defender, my top priority will be to make sure every, single client the PD's office is appointed to at your expense will be well represented. The ideas I am proposing are designed to benefit the clients, the employees, and the taxpayers.
1. ALL Attorneys Will Have Cases
I was raised with a strong work ethic: I worked throughout high school and college. While at FSU law school, I worked with a painting subcontractor on construction sites, waited tables, and took out student loans (which I have since paid off) - yet I still graduated early in 2 and 1/2 years.
So, it is difficult to accept that there are roughly a dozen or so attorneys in the current office who do not have a regular case load? I'm told it is because they are 'supervisors'. The problems I see, however, in having all these attorneys without a regular case load are:
it's not fair to the clients as these lawyers are usually the most experienced and are great trial lawyers;
it's not fair to the current employees who have case loads which far exceed what they should be. Even the State Attorney supervising attorneys have cases & most PD offices around the State require all of their attorneys to carry cases;
it's not fair to the taxpayers. It's basic Economics: having a dozen or so lawyers without a regular caseload means there are more lawyer positions that have to be filled to actually represent the clients.
2. Better Salaries For Attorneys
Having a dozen or so 'supervisors' (many making close to or above six-figure salaries) without a regular case load doesn't make economic sense. It means that more attorneys will have to be hired to actually do the work.
Instead, by returning these experienced attorneys to the courtrooms, that will, in turn, result in less positions to have to hire for. The salary process is not overly complicated. Florida Statute 27.5301(2) addresses PD salaries: "The salary for each assistant public defender shall be set by the public defender of the same judicial circuit in an amount not to exceed 100 percent of that public defender’s salary and shall be paid from funds appropriated for that purpose." As it stands right now, however, the 'funds appropriated for that purpose' are not being used effectively. By giving every attorney a case load (even the elected Public Defenders in some circuits have taken on cases), that will reduce the number of attorneys needed to fill the ranks. Those salary funds could be redistributed among the attorneys.
In addition, I would explore the idea of allowing all attorneys (not just a select few) to do limited, outside (non-criminal law) legal work on the side. Though Fla. Stat. 27.51(3) indicates that the elected PD "...is prohibited from engaging in the private practice of law while holding office", Assistant public defenders, on the other hand, "shall give priority and preference to their duties as assistant public defenders and shall not otherwise engage in the practice of criminal law."
3. Bring Back The PD-Jail Video Link
Almost two decades ago, Al Schreiber (the former Public Defender prior to the current administration), had negotiated with the Sheriff's Office to install a video link between the PD's office and the local jails. Lawyers would still meet clients in person at the jails - the video link just saves a lot of time when an attorney simply needs some information from a client, or needs to give information to a client.
Unfortunately, that video link was discontinued. All of that work involved in setting up the link along with the video equipment was wasted. Now, attorneys must use their time driving to the jails up in the northern part of the County and, reportedly, are no longer reimbursed for mileage.
I would work with the new Sheriff to try to use technology to the benefit of both of our offices.
4. Better 'Early Representation'
There will always be times during the 'early representation' part of a person's case (the time from Arrest up through Arraignment) when the Public Defender's Office will need to become involved, as noted below. But there is no reason why newly arrested inmates should be regularly called up to be asked if they have or want a lawyer.
Although Fla. Stat. 27.59, entitled "Access to Prisoners", authorizes the Public Defender "to inquire of all persons who are incarcerated in lieu of bond and to tender them advice and counsel at any time," that doesn't mean the PD has to call up every newly arrested inmate within days of their arrest and make this inquiry. The Legislature could not have intended for that. My approach as Public Defender would be to provide 'early representation' to the following types of scenarios:
- If an inmate without private counsel has remained incarcerated for a certain number of days after their 1st Appearance, the PD Office will then inquire of that inmate and determine whether a bond reduction motion can be filed & start assisting the inmate in preparing for the bond hearing, for example;
If an inmate without private counsel is being held with 'No Bond', the PD Office will inquire of that inmate. If the inmate qualifies for taxpayer-funded counsel, the PD Office will consider whether to file a motion to set bond (i.e., 'Arthur ' Motion');
If no charges have been filed against an inmate within the required time periods, the PD Office will inquire and do everything possible to help the inmate;
But the valuable resources of the PD Office are meant for those 'early representation' inmates who truly need it - not every single person who was just recently arrested.
5. Establish a 'Post Disposition' Program
I see tremendous value in programs like the one started by Tampa Public Defender Julianne Holt which assists indigent clients in becoming self-sufficient, productive members of the community. A 'Post Disposition Program' in Broward could connect employers with clients who are on probation, for example, and would be designed to assist clients in complying with court-ordered sanctions (like probation, or paying restitution) with the ultimate goal of reducing recidivism – or re-entry into the criminal justice system. The PD Office would be able to identify and contend with problems before they develop, and possibly help avoid serious legal consequences. Clients could be supplied with information regarding housing, medical care, mental health services, and employment opportunities available throughout South Florida. In addition, clients could receive assistance on where in the community to obtain basic needs such as food, clothing, and shelter.