CASPER (WNE) — Staffing shortages that led the Wyoming public defender last summer to decline misdemeanor cases in Campbell County have been resolved, the attorney told the Star-Tribune earlier this month.
Diane Lozano, who runs the statewide agency that defends people accused of crimes who cannot afford private lawyers, said by phone that she had made job offers to fill open positions in Campbell and Laramie counties.
She said during the April 8 interview that she had not yet made an offer to fill an open position in Natrona County, but that she anticipated doing so soon. The agency’s capacity to take cases became an issue last year, when Lozano told judges in Campbell County Circuit Court that her office there did not have enough lawyers to handle new cases.
The same day, Judge Paul Phillips found her in contempt and ordered she pay the court
$1,500 per day until she took the cases and all others referred her by the court.
By the end of May, Lozano had appealed the judge’s ruling to the state appellate court. In Natrona County, meanwhile, the public defender’s office — citing workloads that Lozano said precluded lawyers’ ability to provide effective representation as required by the U.S. Constitution — also stopped taking appointments to misdemeanor cases and judges in both counties began appointing private attorneys to those cases.
The staffing crunch eventually eased, and public defenders began again taking the cases, though private lawyers continued to represent the people they had been assigned during the staffing shortage.
Then, in early April, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled in Lozano’s favor, determining that Lozano acted appropriately when she triggered the contempt order — citing rules of professional conduct that indicated her lawyers were well-overworked — by declining to represent two people in Campbell County misdemeanor cases.