Contracts for Appointed Counsel in Juvenile Delinquency Cases: Defining Expectations

Published On: May 1, 2012


In May 2012, the UC Davis Journal of Juvenile Law and Policy published Staff Attorney Sue Burrell’s law review, Contracts for Appointed Counsel in Juvenile Delinquency Cases: Defining Expectations. The article presents the results of work undertaken as part of the MacArthur Foundations’ Juvenile Indigent Defense Action Network, and multi-year national initiative. Sue’s team of experienced delinquency attorneys was asked to analyze contracts for appointed counsel in delinquency cases, and to propose ways to improve them. The team began by discussing the key elements of delinquency representation, and what it would want to see in contracts. Then, Public Records Act requests were sent to every county in the state, resulting in a return of contracts from 56 of the 58 counties. The contracts were then analyzed to see if they contained the key elements of representation, and also, for compensation, training and experience requirements, and oversight. The article ties the contracts to the critical role of delinquency representation in assuring justice for individual youth, reducing the societal costs of juvenile crime, and assuring the integrity of the justice system. It discusses the complex set of specialized skills needed by delinquency counsel, including knowledge of criminal and juvenile law, juvenile court procedure, trial and appellate skills, adolescent development, juvenile adjudicative competence, rehabilitative services, and collateral consequences of court involvement. The article reports that the appointed counsel contracts from California reveal a disappointing lack of attention into these basic elements of delinquency representation. The prevalent use of generic contracts for multiple kinds of cases means that cases are regularly handled without reference to critical issues such as post-disposition representation. The failure of many contracts to include qualifications for employment represents a missed opportunity for contracting agencies to obtain experienced, well-trained counsel and to provide ongoing training requirements and quality assurance. Counsel appointed under the contracts are left with little idea of what is expected of them, and no basis from which to negotiate resources and conditions of employment that are needed to provide competent representation. The contracts also provide a window into troubling deficiencies with respect to compensation, oversight, and lack of independence for appointed counsel. The article concludes that competent representation is most likely to occur if contracts include the elements that make juvenile delinquency representation its own specialty, and provide adequate compensation for each element; if attorneys are experienced and properly trained; and if counsel systems operate independently and have meaningful oversight.

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