The Workload Committee's mission is to ensure, to the extent practicable, that every defender organization in the nation can reliably demonstrate the appropriate level of resources it needs to ensure that each one of its lawyers can provide reasonably effective assistance of counsel to each of their clients under prevailing professional norms. The Workload Committee is currently co-chaired by Stephen Hanlon, NAPD General Counsel, and Mark Stephens, NAPD Chair and District Defender for the Public Defender’s Community Law Office in Knoxville, TN.
NAPD believes the time has come for every public defense provider to develop, adopt, and institutionalize meaningful workload standards in its jurisdiction. In March 2015, NAPD released its Workloads Position Paper. Based on the conviction that a lawyer’s well-spent time is the single most important factor in a client receiving effective and competent representation, NAPD’s Workload Position Paper strongly recommends that meaningful evidence-based standards for public defense workloads can best be achieved and institutionalized through ongoing, contemporaneous timekeeping by public defense providers.
This NAPD position paper is the first national statement on workloads to require permanent timekeeping as a condition of meaningful workload evaluation and litigation. It significantly advances the campaign to end excessive workloads.
More and more jurisdictions are engaging in workload evaluations. Currently, workloads studies of this kind are being conducted in the statewide systems of Louisiana, Colorado, Rhode Island, and Tennessee, and are actively being considered in five additional states. This is a significant development in the decades-long effort to end excessive workloads. These public defender organizations will now have standing to lead criminal justice reform because they have first reformed themselves with this remarkable cultural revolution.
Public defender organizations that have completed such a rigorous workload study can do things that other public defender organizations cannot. They can now appear before legislatures as the most accountable, the most reliable, the most responsible, and the most transparent actors in the criminal justice system. If such a public defender organization is not successful in the legislature, it can proceed with litigation armed with reliable data and analytics to demonstrate that it is entitled to workload relief when its lawyers' workloads are so high that they can no longer provide reasonably effective assistance of counsel to all of their clients.
In response to inquiries from PD leaders, and to support the goals of the Workload Committee, a group of NAPD IT specialists assembled a Case Management Systems Comparison Tool comparing and contrasting six such systems currently in use by member organizations. This effort was coordinated by NAPD members Issac Merkle in Knox County, TN and Melanie Oberlander in King County, WA.
Other projects of the Workload Committee include: developing new workload standards; equipping local, state and federal policymakers with data and draft policies to reduce workload by reclassifying hundreds of low-level, non-violent offenses into non-criminal infractions; conducting research on misdemeanor representation and the prevalence of “no counsel courts” in NAPD members' jurisdictions; securing financial and intellectual capital for workload studies; and undertaking internal and external communications work to end excessive workloads.
In August 2017, NAPD sent a letter to the Houston County (GA) Commission detailing a number of concerns that relate to the termination of the Houston County Public Defender, who was terminated without cause after asking for additional resources to resolve his office's excessive workloads. District Defender Nick White was terminated earlier in August after citing his ethical obligation to seek more resources so that his attorneys could render effective and competent counsel. The Commission said it terminated Mr. White because it wanted "to go in another direction." NAPD's letter cites national standards and best-practices relating to issues of independece, ethical duty, the appropriate composition of oversight boards, and excessive workloads.
In March 2017, NAPD released its Statement on Reducing Demand For Public Defense: Alternatives to Traditional Prosecution Can Reduce Defender Workload, Save Money, and Reduce Recidivism. There are more than 2 million people in jail and prison in the United States. This is a four-fold increase since 1980. This increase and the racial disproportionality among incarcerated people has led to alliances across the political spectrum to address the impact on people and on budgets. As the new Coalition for Public Safety has put it, “Our country has an ‘overcriminalization’ problem and an ‘overincarceration’ problem — and it’s getting worse." NAPD authored this statement because there is a great opportunity to make transformative changes that can improve justice and save money. A variety of organizations representing a wide spectrum of political views have joined together to end the systematic problem of overcriminalization and narrow the net of incarceration by reforming criminal codes.