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NC Public Defense System Questioned by U.S. Attorney General

June 23, 2010

WILMINGTON, N. C. - Critics of the legal system insist the scales of justice are easily tipped in one side's favor, depending on one's financial resources. In North Carolina, criminals are defended by public defenders in some counties; in others, by private attorneys paid by the county.

This inconsistency is among the issues addressed by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at the North Carolina Advocates for Justice (NCAJ) convention this week in Wilmington. NCAJ President Phil Baddour says supporting public defenders is critical.

"With the public defenders, to see that they're one, adequately paid; and two, that they have adequate resources to defend their clients in terms of whatever they need."

According to Holder, the problems facing North Carolina's public defender program are not unique. Other states are facing similar challenges due to budget cuts and heavy caseloads.

The defense of juveniles is another area of concern for those involved with the state's justice system. Baddour says in some cases. minors don't have legal representation during important proceedings, or waive their right to a lawyer without understanding what is at stake.

"In almost every case, we are advocating for the powerless against the very powerful. You know, we are advocating for people that have very little resources."

The NCAJ lobbies for changes in state laws and assists defendants and their attorneys when necessary. Its five-day convention ends on Wednesday, June 23.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - NC