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ACLU sues Idaho over public defense system

The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state of Idaho over its patchwork public defense system.

The civil rights group contends that state officials have known for at least five years that high case loads, low budgets and a system that changes from county to county means that low-income defendants aren’t being fairly represented in court.

The ACLU has brought similar lawsuits in several other states, reaching settlements in Washington, New York and elsewhere.

Currently Idaho counties set up their own public defense system. In many regions, public defenders are paid a fixed-fee contract regardless of their caseload, and often defendants don’t even talk to their court-appointed attorney until they see the lawyer in court.

The ACLU is seeking class-action status and asking a federal judge to order Idaho to come up with a better system and monitor the state to make sure improvement is made.

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