TULSA -- Caseloads continue to rise for Tulsa County public defenders, but the funding is not matching the trend.
Chief Public Defender Rob Nigh said attorneys in his office do not have time to spend with their clients because they are so overworked.
“Any good lawyer will tell you the key to success for your client is to prepare and taking time to know your client,” Nigh said.
Unfortunately, he said they do not have the time to provide the quality of representation they want to or investigate as much as they should. Attorneys in his building are working on an average 327 cases at any point. The American Bar Association recommends 150.
“It’s not just a case,” Nigh explained. “It’s a person. It’s a mother or a father or a son or a daughter or a sister.”
In his budget he submitted to the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Nigh included funding to hire two additional attorneys.
“The kind of justice you receive should not be dependent on your financial condition,” Nigh said.
Jeannetta Taylor depended on her public defender to have that mindset.
“He didn’t want to give in until I was satisfied,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t about what he wanted me to do so he could hurry on. It was about ‘I am going to fight for you all the way to the end’ and he did.”
Taylor said she saw her attorney several times leading up to her court date and he showed up several hours before her trial to see her in jail. Without that, she fears she would still be in jail.
“I would still be in custody in the state and the city would still be paying for me to stay there, when now I am able to function in society and pay my own way,” Taylor said.
Nigh said it is becoming increasingly difficult to provide the level of representation Taylor describes, which is why he is asking for more attorneys.
“You have to do this with energy and zeal and if you are overworked on a regular basis, that zeal and that ability to fight gets reduced,” Nigh explained.
He said he should have asked for more, because based on their work load, he feels justified in asking for six of seven. He wanted to be realistic in hopes of getting what he proposed.
He anticipates hearing back from the Oklahoma Supreme Court about hiring additional manpower in July.
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