Team’s Pro Bono Case Highlights Unmanageable Caseload in Public Defender’s Office

February 3, 2017
Nashville Scene

Bass, Berry & Sims attorneys Angie Bergman and David Esquivel provided insight for an article in the Nashville Scene about a recent case highlighting the conflict between public defenders’ workloads and constitutional rights faced by some citizens within Tennessee’s public defense system. 

The case centered around John Hernandez, an indigent defendant represented by the Public Defender of Metro Nashville. John was indicted for murder in 2013 and extradited to Tennessee in 2014 to stand trial where his case was assigned to the Public Defender’s Office for representation. In 2016, two years after extradition and after several lengthy delays to his trial date, John requested to represent himself at his own murder trial rather than face additional delays. His public defender filed a motion to dismiss the charges against him, citing a violation of his Constitutional right to a speedy trial. The motion to dismiss centered on the defense’s inability to adequately prepare for the murder trial amidst the overwhelming workload of the office as a whole and for John’s lawyers in particular.

Through our firm’s pro bono initiative, our team of attorneys were engaged to represent John in drafting a motion to dismiss and arguing for dismissal of the indictment in an evidentiary hearing. In the brief, our attorneys argued that “Tennessee’s affirmative decision to inadequately fund the Metro Public Defender’s Office has not only created an unmanageable caseload for the public defenders, but has also forced both Mr. Hernandez’s attorney and this Court to make the unconscionable decision of whether Mr. Hernandez is entitled to a right to counsel or a right to a speedy trial. Under the circumstances, he cannot receive both.”

The article in the Nashville Scene, “Buried Under Workload, Public Defender’s Office Pushes Back,” further outlines the case and the subsequent steps the Public Defender Dawn Deaner has taken to remedy the situation within the Public Defender’s Office. The article, published February 2, 2017, is available online.