The Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) is facing its
toughest trial yet. After years of increasing budgets, it must
change its ways.
CPCS staff, which represents indigent persons in defense matters,
handled 10 percent of the state's case load in the past. The
remaining 90 percent was contracted out to private attorneys
charging an hourly fee.
For the fiscal 2012 budget, Gov. Deval Patrick's administration
wanted that to change. Massachusetts has not been immune to
financial woes brought on by a struggling economy, and Patrick
proposed turning CPCS into a 100 percent staff-run operation,
estimating saving $45 million annually.
"I think we're in a period of unprecedented fiscal crisis," said
Anthony Benedetti, CPCS' chief counsel. "There are fewer resources
and [the administration] believes it's a way to do the same quality
work for a cheaper price."
'When Springfield-based attorney David Hoose met Patrick 20
years ago, he thought "this was a guy that has some understanding
that you can't put a price tag on justice."
Hoose, who took over
the private indigent defense in Hampden County when he formed the
Hampden County Lawyers for Justice, said Patrick "clearly doesn't"
think that way anymore.
In a CommonWealth magazine article, Jay Gonzalez,
Massachusetts' secretary of administration and finance and a newly
appointed CPCS board member, said "a system that pays private bar
advocates by the number of hours they work provides an incentive to
take longer to resolve cases, not necessarily to achieve a better
"There's been this undertone from the administration ... that
everybody is milking the system and is getting fat off the system,"
Hoose said. "Anyone who does this work as a member of the private
bar certainly resents that."
Patrick didn't get the overhaul he was seeking, but CPCS must
now take on 25 percent of the caseload, resulting in the hiring of
hundreds of attorneys.
"It's quite a dramatic change," said Benedetti. "It has required
an enormous number of hours in terms of planning, looking at
caseloads and making a determination of how many attorneys we're
going to need."
"We've had no one [from the private bar] apply for any of the
public defender jobs that I'm aware of … because salaries are
really very low," Hoose said. Panel members believe the governor's
plan "is inevitably headed to a very bad situation. No one wants to
be stuck in a job where you're overworked, underpaid and morale is
terrible. I think that's the
CPCS also faces finding enough space for its new employees, a
time-consuming process. "Meanwhile, at the same time, everybody is
doing their usual job," Benedetti said. "Morale is a challenge.
There's just so much more to do and not a lot of resources to do
A concern of everybody involved is whether the quality of the
representation will diminish.
"There is always the possibility that as attorneys, we take more
cases ... become overwhelmed and cannot properly represent each
individual client," Benedetti said. "That is something we are going
to keep a close watch on."
"All the talk [from Patrick] was on how we are going to save
money," Hoose said. "No matter how dedicated or talented full-time
public defenders are, [with Patrick's plan] they're going to be
underpaid and overworked. Morale and quality of representation is
going to suffer."
MBA Chief Operating Officer and Chief Legal Counsel Martin W.
Healy, another newly appointed CPCS board member, said he would
like to see more private bar advocates apply and take positions
with the agency. "The legislation priority for the newly created
positions should be given to the women and men that are currently
working as bar advocates."
Another change is how CPCS board appointments are made. The
15-member board was once solely appointed by the Supreme Judicial
Court. Now board members are chosen by the SJC, the governor, the
House and the Senate.
CPCS board members were also previously able to take on cases
set aside for the private bar. They can no longer do that, which
resulted in certain board members becoming ineligible for
Structural changes to any organization can be a challenge and it
remains to be seen what effect they'll have.
"It remains to be seen what the effect on our clients will be,"
Benedetti said. The administration has "done what they've done. We
need some time to access the result of this change."