Public Defender In Montana, Good Luck
Commit a crime in Montana; good luck. Montana’s Office of State Public Defender (OPD) claim:
- they’re overworked,
- have budget issues; they can’t assign attorneys to 663 cases.
In typical lawyer fashion, leave the little guys with no way out. But Justice Donald L. Harris had no patience for this injustice. He issued a warning which fell on deaf ears. Now Rhonda Lindquist, director of the Office of State Public Defender, faces fines. Eight thousand five hundred ($8,500) for contempt (Staff 2022).
Yet the law claims these lawyers must offer the defendant legal counsel. Montana’s Constitution guarantees the “Right and justice shall be administered without sale, denial or delay.” It also assures a defendant the right to counsel and a speedy trial.
[T]he guilty as well as the innocent are entitled to due process of law. They are entitled to a fair trial. They are entitled to counsel. They are entitled to fair treatment from the police. The law enforcement officer has the same duty as the citizen-indeed, he has a higher duty-to abide by the letter and spirit of our Constitution and laws. You yourselves must be careful to obey the letter of the law. You yourselves must be intellectually honest in the enforcement of the law.Harry S. Truman
But even with the laws on the books, the director of ODP doesn’t care. She made no guarantees any attorney would be assigned to cases. She claims they cannot hire contract attorneys; the rates are too low.
Sadly she needs reminding about Montana’s Code Ann. § 47-1-104(3). It requires the immediate assignment of public defenders in criminal cases when the court orders the assignment.
(3) When a court orders the assignment of a public defender, the appropriate office shall immediately assign a public defender qualified to provide the required services. The director shall establish protocols to ensure that the offices make appropriate assignments in a timely manner.Montana Title 47. Access to Legal Services § 47-1-104
Her office must help defendants regardless of budgetary constraints (Judge Donald L. Harris 2021).
FindLaw Staff. 2021. “Montana Title 47. Access to Legal Services § 47-1-104.” Findlaw. April 27, 2021.
Judge Donald L. Harris. 2021. Order RE: Contempt And Sanctions.
Staff, NBC Montana. 2022. “Judge Holds Montana Top Public Defender in Contempt.” KECI. February 3, 2022.