Supervising and supporting contract attorneys handling conflict-of-interest cases.
Population of Kentucky: 4,413,457
New DPA Cases per Year: 175,587
Conflict Cases per Year: 9,380
Conflict Cases Contracted to Outside Counsel: 4,313
The Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy (DPA) is the public defender for the Commonwealth of Kentucky, operating public defender offices and contracting with private attorneys across the state. A public defender office cannot ethically provide representation to multiple clients when there is a conflict of interest between them – for instance, when prosecutors offer co-defendants plea deals in exchange for evidence they can provide about each other’s involvement in a crime. DPA contracts with private attorneys to provide representation in these cases. Unlike for its full-time defenders, DPA is unable to monitor the work of the conflict counsel, who are paid in low, flat-fee pay schemes, well below market rates. In addition to its lack of oversight and transparency, this contracting model disincentives lawyers from proceeding to trial or otherwise devoting additional time to cases. The consequence is that even co-defendants in the same case can be assigned counsel who have very different resources available to mount their defense.
A test group of conflict counsel are now submitting data to DPA about the work they do on each case; DPA can now take a more accurate account of how resources are spent and where more are needed. DPA has hired an experienced supervising attorney to act as a Conflict Counsel Coordinator, assessing the conflict counsel’s needs and providing some services that were previously offered only to full-time public defenders, such as case reviews and sample motions. DPA is also providing, for the first time, two-day training sessions that are specific to the practice of conflict counsel.
Data Collection & Research
Researchers from the Department of Criminal Justice at the University of Louisville are surveying conflict counsel to measure if additional training and technical assistance has contributed to their skills. Using administrative data from the courts and data submitted by the test group of attorneys, the research team is also assessing the caseloads handled by conflict counsel and determining whether their work on cases has changed as a result of increased oversight and support.