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YES ON SIX: The Work Continues!

16 November 2016 Published in The ACLU of Utah Activist

On March 18, 1963, John F. Kennedy was the president of the United States.Screen Shot 2016 11 16 at 10.07.05 AM

That was the day the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright Gideon v. Wainwright, the lawsuit that established the right of every person who is facing time behind bars to have a defense attorney, regardless of their ability to pay.

Since that decision, our country has seen nine other presidents living in the White House. All the while, the ACLU and its partners have been fighting to make sure that constitutional right, as guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, is realized.

So, regardless of the outcome of last week’s presidential election, the ACLU of Utah’s efforts to reform our state’s failing public defense system will continue…because violations of Utahn’s Sixth Amendment rights continue to happen every day.


Last week, a federal district court judge dismissed one lawsuit alleging violations of Sixth Amendment rights…but it was not our lawsuit.

On November 7, U.S. District Judge Dee Benson dismissed Cox v. Utah, a lawsuit filed by Ogden-based criminal defense attorney Michael Studebaker, alleging that the state of Utah was failing to fulfill its Sixth Amendment obligations. Mr. Studebaker had filed his lawsuit in January of 2016, on behalf of two men facing criminal charges in Washington County, as well as several unnamed plaintiffs.

The ACLU of Utah filed its own class action lawsuit, in partnership with cooperating attorneys at Holland & Hart, LLP, alleging specific violations of the Sixth Amendment on behalf of multiple plaintiffs, about five months later.

Both lawsuits named the state of Utah as a defendant, which led the state to request that the cases be consolidated. That request was denied at the same time Mr. Studebaker’s lawsuit was dismissed.

That means, the ACLU of Utah’s lawsuit – Remick v. Utah – will move forward, assigned to U.S. District Judge David Nuffer.


And it’s a good thing, too, because it looks like the state’s new Indigent Defense Commission is moving nowhere fast.

The Commission met for its first official meeting, with newly-hired executive director Joanna Landau, on November 8 (more than one year after the Sixth Amendment Center released its report detailing Utah’s deficient system).

Commission members agreed that additional staffing was needed to support the new executive director, including a data analyst and possibly a juvenile justice indigent defense specialist.

Then they scheduled a second meeting for December 19.

It appears that the ACLU of Utah’s fears that the Commission will operate with little urgency have merit.

As part of our Yes On Six! Advocacy campaign, the ACLU of Utah is committed to sharing the stories of everyday Utahns who are seriously impacted by our failing public defense system. Our lack of a statewide system, standards, or funding is not a theoretical problem. It is an urgent crises that costs Utah taxpayers millions of dollars in misspent funding, and threatens criminal defendants with unnecessary incarceration.

Stay tuned for such stories in the coming weeks!