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Saturday, February 6, 2010 - 5:55am

State Hires Lawyers for Poor Defendants, But Group Says It's Not Enough

A judge heard arguments Friday in a case over whether the state has failed to provide lawyers for hundreds of poor people in jail to appeal their convictions. The Southern Center for Human Rights wants the court to force the state to come up with the money to pay the lawyers.

In today's hearing both the Southern Center which is filing the lawsuit and the state agreed on a couple of facts. A couple of days ago, there were around 190 convicts seeking to appeal who had not been appointed lawyers. Two days ago, the state contracted with private lawyers to represent around 117 of those defendants.

The state says this means the problem is solved. But the Southern Center claims the state's action is a short term fix. They tried to show the backlog of unrepresented defendants will continue to grow without a solution.

Here’s an exchange between the Southern Center’s Michael Kaplan and Monique Rogers who oversees the public defender’s appellate division.

Kaplan: And we talked about the numbers of cases that have been assigned to your division, is it fair to say that that number grows every month.

Rogers: Yes, we continue to see requests, every month, every week.

Kaplan: Is there any sign that that number is lessening?

Rogers: No.

Another big issue discussed was whether the state creates unnecessary hurdles that prevent defendants from being appointed lawyers. The state says its just trying to streamline the process.