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Public Defender's Office fights to stay open

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by Mindy Aguon

Guam - The federal Public Defender's Office on Guam is fighting to remain in operation as the effects of sequestration are crippling the office's ability to provide effective representation of criminal defendants. 

Sequestration has had a major impact on the Public Defender's Office on Guam. "We are being inordinately hit. The sequestration should be approximately 4.7% budget cut across the board however this year we're slated to receive a 23% decrease in funds," explained federal public defender John Gorman. He says this fiscal year the office made do with less - 11% less.

"During this year we were able to make cuts," he continued. "Eliminate all travel eliminate all training budget so we're cutting what little fat we did have and serious muscle. When you get into Fiscal Year 2014 starting October 1, a 23% cut means you're not cutting into fat or muscle, your lopping off limbs and it really calls into question the viability of our organization."

Gorman says the problem lies in the fact that the U.S. Attorney's Office nationwide is slated to receive a 79 million dollar increase in funding next fiscal year.  He says both sides should be comparable.

"So when you see them getting a large increase and the federal defenders receiving a huge decrease that poses serious questions about our system of justice and it goes really to our system of justice which is adversarial. Both sides should be funded somewhat fairly," he said.

With only six people in the Guam office, Gorman says a 23% cut would mean letting go of more staff. "When you cut two to three people from a six-person office you're basically decimating our organization so the cut are dire," he said.

If the cuts go through, the office on Guam will be left with two attorneys and two staff with no investigative or computer assistance - greatly hampering their ability to represent criminal defendants.

He said, "It goes towards the effective representation of clients and so at some point you'd have to consider the viability of the office when if you can to provide effective zealous representation than what would be the point of the office?"?

More than 80 chief judges across the nation have submitted their concerns regarding the cuts in hopes lawmakers in Washington will do what it takes to stave off the cuts.  Considered by many as the crown jewel of indigent defense, Gorman says it's disheartening to see that being dismantled, especially this being the 50th anniversary of Gideon V. Waynewright, which actually started indigent defense.

While the office has been around on Guam for a decade, Gorman says closure of the office would not be any more cost effective as the costs of representing criminal clients would be handled by private attorneys.

"We're hopeful," he noted. "We're fighting."

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