Report Says Public Defenders Carrying Too Many Cases

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky's heavy caseloads for attorneys representing indigent defendants is taxing the public defense system and possibly jeopardizing clients' access to justice, the Department of Public Advocacy's top official said.

Public defense attorneys in Kentucky on average are juggling about 436 cases per year, according to the agency's annual report released Friday. Public defenders in urban areas, however, are facing even fiercer caseloads, as high as 651 in Lexington, the report found.

Still, caseloads are down from an average of 468 per attorney during the 2006 fiscal year, the report found.

The numbers reflect an agency budget crunch that has been years in the making, said Ernie Lewis, who heads the state public defender system. And it could lead to systemwide problems, Lewis said.

"My lawyers are working as hard as they can work, lots of overtime, trying to do the best they can do on individual cases," Lewis said. "When caseloads get above the national standards, you're risking systemic problems at that point."

During the past seven years, there has been an increase of more than 50 percent in caseloads, the report said.

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