A conflict attorney is another name given to a professional panel attorney. The criminal justice system in America ensures that every person who stands in front of the judge will have an attorney by his or side. If the individual cannot afford legal representation, the court will assign a public defender to work with that individual. Cases that involve some type of conflict of interest between that attorney and the case at hand will end with the individual receiving help from a panel attorney.
What is a Public Defender?
The court system features both a prosecution and a defense. The defense is responsible for fighting for the defendant and helping that person with representation in the court. Prosecutors working on the case are responsible for gathering evidence that proves the guilt of that party and ensuring that the court find that defendant guilty. A public defender is someone who works for the court and accepts pro bono cases. Though some jurisdictions require that individuals pay their attorneys later, others will let those attorneys work on cases for free. A public defender will usually only take cases where the charged party cannot afford to hire an attorney.
Conflict of Interest
If the public defender has a conflict of interest and cannot work on an individual’s case, the court will assign a panel attorney or conflict attorney to that case. One example of a conflict of interest is when the assigned public defender previously worked with that client. The attorney may argue that he or she cannot best help that client based on past evidence or information shared between the two. Nolo points out that the court may call on a panel attorney for help when prosecutors charge two clients with the same crime. This ensures that both parties have someone looking out for their best interests.
What the Attorney Does
A panel attorney is responsible for the same things as a paid defense attorney. He or she will meet with the client in a law firm, office or even in the client’s home. If the client is in jail pending trial, the attorney will meet with the client in jail. The attorney is responsible for listening to the client’s version of events, finding evidence and witnesses and preparing for the upcoming trial. A panel attorney may also work with the prosecution to plead down to a lesser charge to avoid jail time or a longer sentence.
When Issues Arise
Panel attorneys can range from experienced lawyers who take on pro bono cases a few times a year to those who just finished law school and passed the bar. If a client is unhappy with the performance of that attorney, the client can request a new attorney. The judge will often want specific reasons why the two parties cannot work together, and the judge has the final say over whether to grant the individual a new attorney. Defendants also have the right to pay for their own representation or seek a second opinion during a free legal consultation.
Public defenders represent clients in front of the judge and help those clients plead down their cases. As the legal system grants all defendants the right to an attorney, the court may decide to assign a client a conflict attorney because of conflicts of interest that arise with the original public defender.