High caseloads and low pay are driving out Oregon’s public defenders, and the result is a criminal justice system in crisis. There aren’t enough attorneys to represent every defendant.
Responsibility for fixing that problem lies with the state Office of Public Defense Services, which doles out contracts to local nonprofits and lawyers. The office is asking for pay increases—not just for public defenders, but also its own oversight commission.
Commissioners would be paid $151 per diem for positions once filled by volunteers, similar to the pay of other state commissioners.
“We want to build and support a commission that can elevate the perspectives of the communities we serve and bring diverse points of view to public policy,” office spokeswoman Autumn Shreve tells WW.
The office has been roiled by turmoil in recent months. After its executive director, Stephen Singer, angered Chief Justice Martha L. Walters, the judge dissolved the office’s oversight commission and appointed a new one—which promptly fired Singer and promoted Multnomah County public defender Jessica Kampfe to replace him.
Kampfe has proposed not just commissioner stipends, which would require legislative approval, but also attorney retention payments and an improved case management system.