In a move to improve the quality of criminal defense for the poor, Chief Public Defender Masood Karimipour has asked U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno for more federal grants for the CNMI to help indigent clients.
Mr. Karimipour met with Ms. Reno during a recent trip to Washington D.C. where he attended a National Symposium on Indigent Defense sponsored by the federal government.
The meeting, attended by public defenders, judges and policy makers from all 50 states, was designed to attract leaders in the indigent defense area and other decision makers in the criminal justice systems who are committed to improving the system for the poor.
“Although the size and population of any one of the 50 states, and their criminal justice systems, dwarfs our small commonwealth, I used the forum as an opportunity to get public recognition for, and raise public awareness of our Commonwealth and all that we have accomplished here,” said Mr. Karimipour.
Mr. Karimipour said delegates to the symposium were very impressed with the CNMI community’s commitment to individual rights and guarantees of liberty and independent judiciary.
“The state and federal bar leaders were very interested in our constitutional democracy, our laws, our judiciary and our criminal justice system. They were particularly concerned with equal justice and our poor citizens’ access to justice,” he added.
Ms. Reno, who was a keynote speaker during the symposium, appeared very interested to find out the impact of federal funds in the criminal justice system on a small community like the Northern Marianas.
She noted that unlike the police and prosecution offices which receive bigger share of federal grants, indigent defense receives relatively little, and none at all until very recently.
In expressing her concern on the recent economic difficulties faced by the Commonwealth and the lack of local funding that has resulted in poor indigent services, Ms. Reno pledged to use her position to push for more federal funding for criminal justice.
Mr. Karimipour also met with Shanlon Wu, who is counsel to the Attorney General, to discuss further the issues concerning the CNMI where he emphasized his wish for the Commonwealth to receive all available federal funding. Mr. Wu also shared his interest in providing assistance to the Commonwealth.
The Public Defender’s Office will be working closely with Harry Blanco, Jr., executive director of CNMI’s Criminal Justice Planning Agency, in tapping federal funds for the CNMI.
In her speech, Ms. Reno stressed the importance of the local government’s support for quality defense for poor people. Poor people’s confidence and trust in an impartial justice suffers when they are denied equal justice such as the public defender’s inability to adequately investigate and prepare a poor person’s case due to lack of resources and unmanageable case loads, she added.