Throughout the United States, indigent defendants facing criminal charges have no voice in choosing the attorney who will represent them in what is often the most serious difficulty they will ever face. Instead, if they want legal representation they must accept the public defender or the lawyer assigned by a judge or other court official. Three years ago Stephen Schulhofer, Robert B. McKay Professor of Law, and co-author David Friedman of Santa Clara University School of Law devised a “client choice” proposal to change this system, in order to fortify the attorney-client relationship and strengthen incentives for defense attorneys to pursue the best interests of their clients rather than those of the court system. Their article, published in the CATO Institute’s journal Policy Analysis, attracted the attention of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission (TIDC), which has designed a pilot project to test Schulhofer’s proposal. In January, the TIDC will begin implementing the client-choice model in Comal County, TX, with safeguards to insure the quality of eligible attorneys. TIDC will also systematically measure the model’s impact, with the support of a project team from the Justice Management Institute, based in Arlington, VA, and a panel of advisors from the American Bar Association, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and other national bodies.

Posted on January 10, 2014