Aurora Public Defender's Office Beholden to the City – Conflict of Interest?

What is a Public Defender?

Public Defenders are court appointed lawyers who represent defendants in criminal matters.  Public defenders are lawyers just like private lawyers,but are appointed to represent those who cannot afford representation of their own.  Defense attorneys have a responsibility to their clients to zealously advocate for their clients.  This is in direct conflict with the responsibility the prosecution has to the community.

What is the Public Defender Commission?

The Public Defender Commission in Aurora has operated independently from the City.  While the Commission members are appointed by the Aurora City Council, their responsibilities are carried out separate from the City.  Those responsibilities include, hiring, firing and oversight of the Public Defender’s Office, with the assistance of the Chief Public Defender.  This independence is important to avoid conflict between the City and Public Defender’s Office.  Charges are brought against defendants by and for the City.  The prosecutors represent the City of Aurora.

Recently, there has been discussion about the Public Defender’s Commission, and by extension, the Public Defender’s Office.  The Aurora City Council recently voted to place the Public Defender’s Office under the Aurora city manager.  A final decision has not yet been made, but if this is approved in the future, it may mean the Aurora city manager will be responsible for hiring and firing the Chief Public Defender.

Allowing the prosecution and defense to be subject to the same entity is a conflict of interest, placing defendants at a disadvantage.

Denver has recently established a Public Defender’s Office, modeled in part after Aurora.  In most municipalities, public defenders are contract attorneys, so there is not a stand alone public defender’s office.  In addition to representatives from Aurora, a member of the Denver Public Defender’s Commission has expressed his concern regarding the proposed change.  For now, the issue is yet to be resolved.  Kelly Fischer, one of the partners at Dahl, Fischer & Wilks, currently serves on the Aurora Public Defender Commission.