On November 2, 2017, the ACLU of Nevada filed a class-action lawsuit against the state of Nevada for failing to ensure rigorous legal representation to people accused of crimes who can’t afford attorneys. The American Civil Liberties Union, O’Melveny & Myers LLP, and Franny Forsman, who served as the federal public defender in Nevada for more than 20 years, are co-counsel in the suit.
The Constitution makes Nevada responsible for upholding the Sixth Amendment inside its borders. Yet the state has abdicated its constitutional responsibility, leaving Nevada’s rural counties to cobble together an unworkable system that lacks sufficient resources, standards, or oversight by the State. These rural counties use a system of de facto flat fees that give lawyers strong financial incentives to provide as little legal assistance to their clients as possible because they will receive the same amount of money regardless of the effort and time they spend on a case. These contract lawyers also take on private clients who pay them much more. As a result, contract attorneys have little incentive to investigate their public clients’ cases, they typically don’t contact their clients for months at a time, they pressure their clients into pleading guilty to charges they haven’t investigated, and they fail to advocate effectively for their clients at sentencing.