Filed Date: June 17, 2015
Clearinghouse coding complete
On June 17, 2015, this class action was filed in Idaho's District Court of the Fourth Judicial District against the State of Idaho, Idaho Governor C.L. Otter, and seven Public Defense Commission (PDC) members. The plaintiffs, represented by the ACLU and private counsel, proceeded under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and state law, and alleged violation of their Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment right to adequate legal counsel, a right also guaranteed under the Idaho Constitution (Art. 1 §13). The suit claimed that Idaho maintained an unconstitutional public defender system wherein thousands enter a defective criminal justice system that is overburdened and underresourced. In particular, plaintiffs claimed that they had to go before a judge for bail hearings, and even enter pleas of guilty and be sentenced, all without a lawyer present; they often faced bail amounts too high for them to pay.
The plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief which would require the state to obtain court approval of “a plan to develop and implement a statewide system of public defense that is consistent with the U.S. Constitution and the Constitution and laws of the State of Idaho,” including systems to ensure uniform standards related to attorney workload, performance, and training.
The defendants filed a motion to dismiss shortly after the complaint was filed and on January 20, 2016, Judge Samuel A. Hoagland dismissed the case, finding that the defendants were protected by sovereign immunity and that justiciability doctrines (standing, ripeness, and separation of powers) barred the claim. The plaintiffs appealed on January 25, 2016 to the Idaho Supreme Court. On May 12, 2016, the U.S. Department of Justice filed an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs and recommending that the Idaho Supreme Court reverse the district court's dismissal because the ruling "has deprived indigent defendants in Idaho" of an essential tool to enforce their constitutional rights.
On April 28, 2017, the Idaho Supreme Court reversed the dismissal as to the state of Idaho and the PDC, but affirmed as to the Governor. In particular, the Court found: that sovereign immunity in the state court was a common law doctrine, and that it was inapplicable when constitutional violations were alleged, and also that the plaintiffs had standing, their claims were ripe, and that their requested relief would not implicate the separation of powers doctrine. The Court stated that the right to counsel was not entrusted to any particular branch of government and just because three branches may collaborate when deciding how to ensure a public defender system is constitutional does not itself implicate a separation of powers issue. 394 P.3d 54.
The Idaho Supreme Court remanded the case and did not award attorney fees or costs on appeal because the merits of the claim still needed to be addressed.
After the case was remanded back to the Idaho District Court and Judge Samuel A. Hoagland, the plaintiffs filed a first amended class action complaint for injunctive and declaratory relief and supplemental pleading against the State of Idaho and the current seven members of the PDC in their official capacities.
On January 17, 2018, after holding a hearing on the motion for class certification one month before, the district court certified a class of:
all indigent persons who are now or who will be under formal charge before a state court in Idaho of having committed any offense, the penalty for which includes the possibility of confinement, incarceration, imprisonment, or detention in a correction facility (regardless of whether actually imposed) and who are unable to provide for the full payment of an attorney and all other necessary expenses of representation in defending against the charge.The court rejected the defendants' contention that the dissimilarities of experiences with public defenders among the class were too great to allow class certification. Instead, the court explained that commonality was satisfied by numerous questions common to every member of the class, including: whether the State is currently providing constitutionally sufficient representation for indigent defendants in their respective jurisdictions; whether the State has violated the United States and Idaho Constitutions by failing to implement, administer, and oversee adequate public defense systems; whether, by abdicating its responsibility to adequately fund, supervise, and administer indigent defense services to the counties, the State has failed to ensure that indigent defendants are provided with effective legal representation, all in violation of the United States and Idaho Constitutions.
Following this, both parties moved for summary judgment on November 20, 2018. One of the central issues presented by the cross motions was what the appropriate legal standard the plaintiffs would have to meet in order to prevail on their systemic challenge to Idaho's indigent public defense system.
On March 19, 2019, the district court denied both parties' motions, and instead, under Idaho Appellate Rule 12(c)(2), issued an order recommending permission to appeal from an interlocutory order. The court explained that an immediate appeal was necessary to materially advance the litigation given the substantial confusion over the standard to be applied and the fact that the issue presents a matter of first impression.
The litigation was stayed, and will proceed on appeal if the Idaho Supreme Court accepts the district court's recommendation. As of April 17, 2019, the Idaho Supreme Court has not acted on this recommendation, and the litigation is ongoing.
Abigail DeHart (6/2/2017)
Chris Pollack (4/16/2019)
Ali, Kathryn M. (District of Columbia)
Calderon, Tovah R. (District of Columbia)
Eppink, Richard Allen (Idaho)
Ladine, Bret H. (California)
Cantrill, David William (Idaho)
Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 1:47 p.m.Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.
State / Territory: Idaho
Filing Date: June 17, 2015
Case Ongoing: Yes
Class Certified as: all indigent persons who are now or who will be under formal charge before a state court in Idaho of having committed any offense, the penalty for which includes the possibility of confinement, incarceration, imprisonment, or detention in a correction facility (regardless of whether actually imposed) and who are unable to provide for the full payment of an attorney and all other necessary expenses of representation in defending against the charge.
Public Interest Lawyer: Yes
Filed Pro Se: No
Class Action Sought: Yes
Class Action Outcome: Granted
Causes of Action:
Prevailing Party: None Yet / None
Nature of Relief:
Source of Relief: