MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer
HELENA (AP) The new public defender's system has experienced a few glitches, including a couple of cases in which lowincome defendants were unable to get an attorney to represent them in court, officials said. But the new state public defender’s office said the communication problems are minor and are now mostly fixed following the July 1 transition from local defender offices to a central management system. Complaints from courts in Lake County surfaced after two defendants showed up to court without an attorney, and told judges they were getting no response from the Office of the State Public Defender. Chief public defender Randi Hood said there was miscommunication with judges in Lake County on how the new process worked. She said the issue has been worked out, and all the defendants now have attorneys. “A couple of people did fall through the cracks, but we have picked them up now,” she said. “This is a brand new system. There are going to be little bumps.” Hood said none of the defendants who lacked an attorney was in jail, and “no one was shortchanged.” Lake County Attorney Bob Long said the issues are causing delays for prosecutions, but he expects it will get better. “It’s not working as fast as we’re used to; that’s just the best way to say it,” he said. “I expect that problem will improve shortly. “I think everybody is trying to learn a new way of doing things that hasn’t been done before. It’s the nature of the beast.” The state is promising the new system will provide defendants who can’t afford lawyers with better legal representation. Previously, counties were in charge of providing public defense. Judges in each county were required to appoint lawyers for people who couldn’t hire their own. Now the state determines who needs an attorney and lines up representation for indigent defendants. The state Legislature made the switch in the face of a lawsuit from the American Civil Liberties Union and others who claimed the county court-appointed attorneys weren’t providing adequate defenses for their clients. Hood said the new system makes sure that clients have competent counsel. A few problems were expected at the start as the state has about 160 courts of limited jurisdiction, such as justice courts, in addition to the district courts, she said.