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Law and Justice

Oregon’s chief justice asks lawyers to step up as public defenders

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Bradley W. Parks
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OPB
Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha L. Walters addresses the Oregon House of Representatives on Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, in Salem, Ore.

In a public appeal to members of the Oregon State Bar, Chief Justice Martha Walters asked attorneys to take on clients and help cover the shortage of public defenders in the state.

In an unusual public plea, Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters asked members of the State Bar to take on clients in need of public defense.

In a letter emailed Thursday, Walters asked members of the State Bar to “help in representing those who are accused of a crime and cannot afford counsel. This is a very basic and fundamental right that Oregon is struggling to accommodate.”

The Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution affords people charged with crimes an attorney provided by the state if they cannot afford their own.

Oregon Supreme Court in Salem, Ore., May 19, 2021.
Kristyna Wentz-Graff /
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Oregon Supreme Court in Salem, Ore., May 19, 2021.

As of Friday, more than 40 people in Oregon did not have a public defender. Of those 26 were in custody, according to the Office of Public Defense Services.

The shortage is most pronounced in the state’s largest counties, including Marion, Multnomah, Lane and Washington.

A report released last week by the American Bar Association found Oregon has just 30% of the public defenders it needs to do adequate representation for its current caseload.

This story will be updated.

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