ACLU sues Nevada over rural public defense | RecordCourier.com

ACLU sues Nevada over rural public defense

by Geoff Dornan
gdornan@nevadaappeal.com

The American Civil Liberties Union has charged Douglas County and 10 other rural counties routinely violate the constitutional rights of criminal defendants by not providing them with adequate legal representation.

The class action suit filed in Carson District Court charges the state is failing to meet its constitutional obligations by abdicating the job of public defense to individual counties.

"Eleven of the counties use contract attorneys, a system in which lawyers receive de facto flat fees and have a financial incentive to provide as little legal assistance to their clients as possible," ACLU officials said in a statement.

The organization charged that violates the 6th Amendment and those defendants' right to due process.

"The state of Nevada has known for a decade that it's rural public defense system doesn't do its job, resulting in injustice after injustice," said ACLU Nevada legal director Amy Rose. "Yet the state has failed to fix it."

"Nevada is shirking its constitutional duty, leaving thousands of defendants at the mercy of failing county-run and county-funded systems," said Franny Forsman, who has served 20 years as Nevada's federal public defender.

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Douglas contracts with attorneys Derrick Lopez, Kris Brown, Maria Pence and Matthew Ence for public defender services. Lopez, Brown and Pence are all former prosecutors in the Douglas County District Attorney's Office.