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Judge Criticized for Jailing Public Defender Unprepared to Go Forward

An Ohio judge who sent a public defender to jail for five hours because he was not prepared to go forward with a case is now facing widespread criticism for his decision, as reported in this story, Judge Has Unprepared Lawyer Arrested (ABC News, 8/20/07). From the story:

Portage County Judge John Plough had assistant public defender Brian Jones arrested for contempt of court last week after Jones refused to begin a misdemeanor assault trial because he said he was unprepared. Jones was assigned to the case one day earlier.  Jones, who started working as a public defender earlier this year, was found in contempt and held for five hours in the local jail before being released on bail, said Ian Friedman, a lawyer with the Ohio Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

Not surprisingly, Plough's ruling outraged the criminal defense bar, prompting the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers to release this statement condemning the judge's action and reaffirming defense counsel's ethical obligation to postpone or delay a trial if they are not fully prepared to proceed.

Andrew Perlman at the Legal Ethics Forum has these comments:

It's bad enough that public defenders have too many clients and not enough resources.  Now, in Ohio, they have to fear going to jail if they can't prepare a case for trial within twenty-four hours.  What's particularly remarkable about the judge's decision was that the lawyer was put in a position of either going to jail or providing unethical representation.  I am consistently amazed (though no longer surprised) by the routine denial of a criminal defendant's right to a competent attorney and the courts' unwillingness to recognize the problem.  When a body of law develops that explains how long lawyers can sleep through a trial before they're considered to be ineffective and lawyers can be jailed for failing to try a case within a day of being assigned to it, there is something seriously wrong with the system.

Judge Plough will hold a hearing on the contempt charge on Friday. It will be interesting to see whether Plough changes his view in light of the criticism his ruling has received.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 22, 2007 at 03:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)


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