Oregon public defenders lobby for sweeping overhaul

This June 12, 2019 photo public defenders in Orego...

This June 12, 2019 photo public defenders in Orego...

In this June 11, 2019 photo provided by Oregon AFS...

In this June 11, 2019 photo provided by Oregon AFS...

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Oregon public defenders walked out of the courthouse and into the Statehouse this week to rally behind legislation that would overhaul the state's public defender system.

Public defenders can have more than 200 cases at a time and a recent watchdog group found that the state's system for paying attorneys to represent criminal defendants who can't afford a private lawyer was unconstitutional.

Oregon contracts with a hodgepodge of private law firms, nonprofits and individual private attorneys to represent these defendants. The complex system pays out these contracts using a fixed-rate fee that rewards attorneys for taking as many cases as they can and settling them instead of going to trial.

House Bill 3145 would take the first steps to overhaul the system at an estimated cost of $50 million, but the legislation has been stalled in committee for more than a month.