A group of public defenders in the southern part of the state lost their grievance that alleged the Minnesota Board of Public Defense had violated the collective bargaining agreement by assigning too many cases to the individual lawyers.
An arbitrator issued a 15-page decision last week. Stephen Befort was sympathetic to the plight of the approximately 13 grievants and both sides agreed that the public defenders throughout the state have excessive caseloads.
The grievants asked for the arbitrator to order the board of public defense to adopt a maximum caseload standard of 400. Evidence presented by the grievants shows that defenders in the Third District have an average of between 660 and 745 cases in the last five years. They say this excessive caseload violates their union contract because it brings rise to ethical concerns over whether the attorneys can provide adequate representation to their clients and creates a risk that the attorneys will violate the Rules of Professional Conduct.
But ultimately Befort concluded that the grievants did not present any evidence that the board of public defense had violated the union contract because there is no mention of a caseload cap in the agreement. He also concluded that so far there had been no discipline of attorneys related to having too many cases, though such a scenario is possible, he said.
Befort concluded that the issue was best decided by the state legislature that allocates funding for public defense, and not a union contract dispute.
“[T]his is not a problem that has been caused by the failure of the State Board of Public Defense to fulfill its obligations under the parties’ collective bargaining agreement. Ultimately, the problem at hand is political in nature and requires resolution at a different forum,” he wrote.
A copy of the decision is here.