Utah IDC Director Joanna Landau Joins NAPD Steering Committee
“Did you really hate your last job?”
“Is that even possible?”
These are the things I hear when I tell people I am the first Director of the Utah Indigent Defense Commission (UIDC), the state’s first effort to consider its indigent defense responsibilities. I am just bullheaded and sanguine enough to love my job and all the challenges and possibilities that come with this chance to change Utah’s public defense narrative to that values indigent defense services as critical to every aspect of criminal justice. I have spent almost my entire legal career in various aspects of Utah’s criminal justice system: working for district court judges, the attorney general’s office, and the Salt Lake County’s Legal Defender Association.
Tell the community something about your organization?
Created in 2016, the UIDC is an all-volunteer group of 14 lawyers and one county commissioner. Utah’s historic approach to indigent defense services was to entirely delegate it entirely to local governments with no oversight or funding. Our statutory mandate covers appointed adult criminal, juvenile delinquency, and parental defense services. My staff of three, are the best. They are variously working on: juvenile court defense representation, collecting and analyzing indigent defense data, and creating/managing our state grant program. We have about $2 million in state money and a discretionary grant program with which to fix it all. Oh, and there is a pending ACLU lawsuit in federal court, arguing our Commission was not enough to fix the problems.
What are the major problems in public defense today?
There are national problems and there are Utah problems. Workloads are less of a concern when you consider Utah has attorneys with inactive licenses [making it unlawful to practice law] contracting with counties to provide indigent defense services, and at least two contract attorneys who have been convicted of theft for destroying orders of appointment and offering to do a “better job” defending indigent people if they could pay in money or guns. Utah has 29 counties, and 11 of them have fewer than ten attorneys and five of those have fewer than 5 attorneys. Throw in mountain ranges that separate courts by hours, and you have a complicated constitutional and geographic problem. Oh and 190|PLUS| Utah cities/towns prosecute criminal cases in their justice courts, making them statutorily responsible for providing indigent defense services. And while there are two county-level public defender offices, before the IDC was created, no two counties or cities had ever worked together to provide indigent defense services.
How useful has NAPD been for you and your organization?
Very. Especially for the connections to people who have ideas and experience reforming aspects of indigent defense that I hope to be able to recreate in Utah.
What would you like NAPD to focus on in 2018?
Creating opportunities to hear from a wider variety of voices in public defense: like people who are finding creative solutions to systemic problems through grants in Texas, or the people working to fix a failed first attempt at public defense reform in Indiana, or those who are effectively using data to achieve legislative support for public defense. We are not a monolith, but a diverse and progressive group of individuals with a common goal and many different ways of achieving it.