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Regional News

Mass. High Court Hears Case On Judge Ordering Public Defenders To Take More Cases

John Adams Courthouse, home of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
Joe Difazio
/
WBUR
John Adams Courthouse, home of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. rthouse, home of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Thursday considered whether a Springfield District Court judge was right in forcing public defenders to take more clients.

The lawyers have said their caseloads are already too high.

There was a disagreement about the order by the judge, but the SJC session also turned into a discussion about not having enough public defenders, and what to do when there are none available.

Justice David Lowy wondered if part of the issue is a trend statewide.

"Lawyers don't try cases anymore," Lowy said. "A very small percentage of lawyers... try cases. Where's the rest of the bar? I mean, there is a problem."

Both sides agreed the pay rate offered to private attorneys working these cases, known as bar advocates, is too low.

As the hearing concluded, Chief Justice Ralph Gants opined.

"I mean, this appears to be one of the few problems that money can solve," he said.

An emergency pay hike for bar advocates has been in place in Springfield, but expires this month.

The SJC has taken the case under advisement. The court docket with filings is available here.

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