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Federal Public Defenders Working Without Pay To Manage Caseload

Our  Fronteras Desk reporter at Marfa Public Radio, Lorne Matalon reports.

Federal public defenders in the district of West Texas say they will work without pay should the government shutdown continue beyond the next week. Defenders provide free legal council to those who otherwise would not be able to afford it.

Texas’ Western District spans 700 miles of the border and is the size of the entire United Kingdom. Defenders in the Western District have the second-highest caseload in the country, second only to Arizona, another border area.

While the type of offenses in these regions hasn't changed — drugs and immigration — prosecutions have risen dramatically. In 2005 the district had 317 cases. Last year it had 1,200.

“We’re going to keep our doors open," said federal defender David Fannin. He said contingency funds are nearly exhausted, but his office will continue to represent indigent clients because the courts are still open.

“We expect that at some point the Mensa members in Congress are going to come to a resolution and they’re going to see that they cannot ask people to work for free for long," Fannin said.

The federal defender system’s budget has been cut repeatedly before the shutdown, but the West Texas office has never shut its doors.