October 5, 2005
Will a Justice Miers continue to be a vocal advocate for better funding of indigent defense?
My crackerjack research assistant has found another tiny but interesting criminal justice scrap on Harriet Miers' paper trail. It appears that, in December 2000, Miers was to moderate a panel entitled "Strategies for Improving Indigent Representation Systems" as part of a two-day "Symposium on Criminal Indigent Defense in Texas" sponsored by the State Bar of Texas and a number of judiciary and defender groups. Details about this symposium can be found here and here.
As detailed in this transcript, Miers was for some reason unable to attend the event. Nevertheless, I think just her commitment to serve as a moderator in this program (many years after she had served as president of the State Bar of Texas) reveals a genuine commitment to the cause of criminal defense and the need for adequate funding of indigent defense. And recall that, as detailed in this post, Miers' 1992 Texas Lawyer article stressed that "inadequacies exist in the resources available to provide constitutionally required indigent criminal defense" and that lawyers "must, in the interest of the administration of justice, be aggressive advocates for increasing the resources available for the representation of indigent defendants."
To add some fun speculation to this mix, recall also that, as noted in this post, President Bush in his February 2005 State of the Union Address made the surprising statement that he planned soon to "send to Congress a proposal to fund special training for defense counsel in capital cases, because people on trial for their lives must have competent lawyers by their side." Besides wondering if President Bush ever did in fact send to Congress such a proposal, I also wonder if it is just a coincidence that Bush made this statement right around the time Miers became White House Counsel.
These issues are, of course, interesting as a matter of criminal justice policy, but they are also potentially significant as a matter of constitutional doctrine. More than a few academics have forcefully advocated that some indigent defense systems are per se constitutionally ineffective because of a lack of adequate funding. Might a Justice Miers be more sympathetic to claims of this sort — or ineffective assistance of counsel claims more generally — than some of her future colleagues?
UPDATE: Thanks to Howard Bashman, I see that the The Daily Journal of California has this article today discussing more generally Miers' "long track record of supporting legal services for the poor."
October 5, 2005 at 11:58 AM | Permalink
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Tracked on Oct 5, 2005 2:36:02 PM
I don't know if the President sent a bill to Congress to fund special training for capital defense counsel. But if he did, it strikes me as a poor use of Federal money, when most death sentences are at the state level.
It also strikes me that it would further exacerbate the disproportionate resources we spend on a punishment that's meted out relatively rarely. As the Adam Liptak article pointed out, the much more common sentence of Life without Parole (LWOP) is effectively a death sentence that occurs much more slowly. And LWOP parole defendants have even lower guarantees of competent counsel than death-eligible defendants do.
Posted by: Marc Shepherd | Oct 5, 2005 1:55:34 PM
Miers was unable to attend the symposium apparently because she was helping with Bush's election recount efforts.
She, apparently, can't confirm, was involved in recruiting pro bono counsel for death cases in Texas back in the 90s.
Posted by: karl | Oct 5, 2005 9:50:39 PM
BJA has made grant money available for the 5 training programs over the next 6 months for defense attorneys, investigators, and mitigation specialist in capital cases at the state level. Two of these programs contain "train the trainer" tracks to enlarge the pool of potential trainers, particularly in underserved states. For more information see this article by Barry Scheck - http://www.nacdl.org/public.nsf/0/ea48806cb830f02a85256ff6005284f8?OpenDocument
Posted by: Jeff Sherr | Oct 6, 2005 8:59:46 AM