I wanted to bring a crucial matter to the attention of the Virginia legal community: The critical need for a state appellate defender in our commonwealth.
Sen. J. Chapman Petersen of Fairfax has introduced (for the second straight year) a budget amendment authorizing an Appellate Defender. It is a modest sum — $275,000 for two attorneys and a support person — but it is a start.
There was an appellate defender from 1996 through 2009. The office had to be abolished due to budget shortfall in 2009.
We need an appellate defender’s office to counter the fine work that the criminal litigation division of the Attorney General’s office has done and continues to do in criminal appeals.
More importantly, Sen. Petersen will introduce amendments to the enabling act and the powers and duties of the Indigent Defense Commission that gives the appellate defender the same statutory basis that a public defender’s office has. States our size, such as Missouri, have a statewide appellate defender office and we know it will ensure the full promise of Gideon in our commonwealth.
I want to urge every lawyer reading this letter to take a few minutes and join me in emailing your delegate and state senator to indicate your support for Sen. Petersen’s appellate defender bill. Some say we attorneys have no power, but when we band together we can have great influence over policy.