In a move that's upsetting some judges, the Broward County, Fla., public defender has forbidden his attorneys from advising indigent criminal defendants to plead guilty at arraignment unless they've had "meaningful contact" with their clients in advance.
Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, who was elected without opposition last year, announced the policy change, effective immediately , in a memo to each of Broward's 29 circuit and county court criminal division judges on Friday afternoon.
Now what's really interesting about this is the reactions...
Judges went a little crazy, but the DA had a lovely and measured response: Broward County State Attorney Michael Satz's spokesman says "We're supportive of anything that makes the criminal justice system better, The new public defender has identified a problem on the defense side and has set out to fix it. We'll do our part to help make it work." Good for them.
Finklestein is looking to end the "meet, great and plead" system that grew up and accounts for 80 percent of the case dispositions in the county (including felonies). He's created an early representation unit (something we at the Bronx Defenders tried back in 1997) and ordered his PD's to contact incarcerated clients within 48 hours. This is all great news, though it is important to note that in Broward (unlike NY where arraignment happens within 24 hours of arrest) arraignment occurs 4-6 weeks after arrest.
(Thanks to Oren for the tip)