This spring was the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court's opinion in Gideon v. Wainwright, a case which held that states had to provide court-appointed counsel for indigent criminal defendants facing felony charges.
Many legal beagles chimed in about what a great decision "Gideon" was (and it was!). I cannot join the back-patting revelry, though, because the "Sequester" presently has a stranglehold on our court system---including the Federal Public Defender Offices (which have been laying off already over-burdoned public defenders). Similar budget issues continue to face Iowa's state judiciary. The clerks of court in every county I visit have all been forced to cut back on services and staff. Tuesday and Thursday most clerks offices close at 2:30 p.m.. This is so even with the implementation of "electronic filing" and "video conferencing" (which, like automatic telephone answering systems can cut costs and make tasks easier, in general, but are much less personal). "Listen carefully to our options for they have changed."
The result of this budget battle, which amounts to nothing short of another un-funded mandate, is that our access to courts is being restricted. The judiciary does not have the luxury of voting itself more appropriations. Public defenders have case-loads so large they have insufficient time to cousel clients and try their cases. Today's Gideon may have a lawyer, but does that lawyer have either the time or the resources necessary to provide adequate representation?