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Indigent defense reforms delayed

The state Supreme Court on Friday gave Nevada courts additional time to meet new performance guidelines for indigent defense, which justices originally ordered to be met by April 1.

The justices also invited district attorneys to help rewrite the tough new standards adopted in January.

Bill Gang, the high court's official spokesman, said, "The court stepped back and allowed additional time in view of testimony they heard" Tuesday, when the justices had a public hearing in Carson City and also accepted televised testimony from Las Vegas. Several court and county officials had also filed motions to set aside the order reforming indigent defense, or to exempt a particular court.

A spokesman for the Nevada chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Gary Peck, saw much more significance in the order.

He called it "an abdication of the court's responsibility to assure that poor defendants receive the constitutionally adequate representation they are entitled to today, not months from now."

"What is especially disturbing is that the court is reconvening the indigent defense commission, that worked for a long time drafting the performance standards applying to lawyers for poor clients, to now include district attorneys," Peck said. "That is tantamount to asking the owner of the Boston Red Socks to select the manager of the New York Yankees."

In setting back the implementation date to July 15, the Friday order cited "new information" on various commission recommendations.

"It is further ordered that the performance standards are referred back to the Indigent Defense Commission for review and revision, if necessary, to address any inconsistencies requiring clarification and consider the written submissions and oral presentations made to this court after the order of January 4, 2008."

The court also ordered that two representatives of the Nevada District Attorneys Association be added to the commission, and that the commission report to the court, by June 30, any revisions it makes to the standards.

And the new order gave Nevada's two urban county courts, Clark and Washoe, additional time to conduct studies of the caseloads carried by their public defenders versus how many they should carry. The studies were originally supposed to finished by July 15; the new deadline is Jan. 1.

The Indigent Defense Commission formed in April after a Review-Journal series about flaws in Clark County's indigent defense system.

Many of the commission's recommendations were accepted in the order of Jan. 4. Both that reform order, and the Friday order modifying, it were unanimous.

Contact A.D. Hopkins at ahopkins@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0270.

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