How to Fire Your Public Defender

By Cindy Hill

A public defender is an attorney appointed to represent an indigent criminal defendant at public expense. If that attorney-client relationship fails, the defendant may need to fire his public defender. Follow these steps to ensure an efficient change in legal counsel.

Determine whether there is a misunderstanding or a genuine conflict between defendant and attorney. Public defenders are experts in criminal defense law and may often provide blunt analysis of a defendant's legal position. Analyze this advice and determine whether the public defender is providing inadequate service, or simply delivering unpleasant, but accurate, information.

Advise the public defender of the defendant's concerns in a concise written list. Meet with the public defender to review these concerns and attempt to resolve them before proceeding to fire the attorney.

Notify the court in writing of the defendant's request to fire the public defender if his concerns can not be worked out with the attorney. Include a statement of reasons, though exercise caution not to reveal any confidential information which may be critical to the defense.

Elaborate on the reasons for requesting that the public defender be fired at a hearing scheduled by the court for consideration of the defendant's request. Answer any questions the court may have, but do not engage in direct argument with the attorney, which may be considered contempt of court.

Be prepared to inform the court as to whether the defendant is requesting appointment of a replacement attorney, or is requesting to represent himself. Be aware that in many jurisdictions, the courts will only replace a public defender once or twice, after which they will make no further substitutions. Await the court's determination on the defendant's request; most courts issue this decision either at the hearing or very shortly thereafter in order to expedite progress on the case.

About the Author

A freelance writer since 1978 and attorney since 1981, Cindy Hill has won awards for articles on organic agriculture and wild foods, and has published widely in the areas of law, public policy, local foods and gardening. She holds a B.A. in political science from State University of New York and a Master of Environmental Law and a J.D. from Vermont Law School.

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