Bill Aims to Align National Standards for Municipal Courts

Senate Bill 203 seeks to create state oversight in municipal courts for public defenders

A bill introduced in the Colorado Senate aims to expand state-regulated public defense attorneys to municipal courts indigent defendants. The Senate Judiciary Committee heard from a number of people both opposed to and supportive of Senate Bill 203 at the hearing late last month, including municipal judges and members of the American Civil Liberties Union and Colorado Municipal League. The bill was referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee after amendments were made Thursday.

“This is not about lobbyists, this is not about municipalities, this is not about attorneys or judges,” bill sponsor Sen. Vicki Marble said during the bill hearing. “This is about defendants who are not getting the right of due process in cases in which they can lose their rights. If they were in the county court, they would be granted the opportunity of a public defender. Right now, they’re getting nothing, and these are some cases that are very serious.”

Colorado has more than 200 municipal courts, and each one has a different procedure in place for appointing public defenders. In some courts, the judge appoints, while in others a city manager, attorney or council makes the appointments.

The legislation would require municipalities to comply with the regulations that govern county and state courts. Currently, the Office of Alternate Defense Council operates in county and state courts throughout Colorado, but state statute doesn’t give the organization jurisdiction in municipal courts.

To read this story and other complete articles featured in the April 2, 2017 print edition of Law Week Colorado, copies are available for purchase online.