The director of the D.C. Public Defender Service yesterday told Mayor Marion Barry that a strike by lawyers at the city's court will "reach a crisis point" early next week because there are no longer enough attorneys to represent indigent defendants there.
PDS director Frank Carter, in a letter hand delivered to Barry yesterday afternoon, urged the mayor "to decide on an immediate course of action to address the situation," saying that attorneys who have volunteered to step in during the walkout have become saturated with new cases.
Carter said "it is imperative" for the mayor to meet with City Councilmember Wilhelmina J. Rolark (D-Ward 8), and Superior Court Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I by the end of this week.
Carter urged Barry and the other officials to issue "a public declaration of your unified support" for a bill set to come before the judiciary committee next week that would raise the pay rates.
PDS, acting under statutory requirements in response to the strike, has actively solicited attorneys from the city's law firms to replace the striking lawyers, who are protesting city pay rates that haven't changed in 13 years.
But this effort, Carter said, "has not been sufficient to continue to assure the appointment of counsel for all indigent defendants."
The PDS is a semi-autonomous agency with a board of directors appointed by the mayor and chief judges of the local and federal courts here.
In an interview yesterday, Carter said that PDS attorneys, who also have accepted additional cases during the strike, some as many as eight or nine cases each day, also will soon have more than they can handle.
Carter said the issue was put to the agency's board of directors Wednesday night and the board authorized Carter and board chairman Vincent H. Cohen to write the letter.
Moultrie, who has consulted daily with PDS since before the strike about providing indigent defendants with attorneys during the walkout, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
A spokeswoman for Barry said last night that the mayor had received the letter but was not prepared to comment.
Rolark could not be reached for comment.
One knowledgeable source said that the Joint Committee on Judicial Adminstration, consisting of Moultrie and judges from Superior Court and the D.C. Court of Appeals, met in emergency session yesterday to discuss the PDS concerns and had discussed them also with Barry.
D.C. Bar president David Isbell said he was pleased by the letter. "I think the ball is squarely in the lap of the mayor and the city council," he said. "I feel some optimism that something will happen."
Isbell, along with leaders of the striking Superior Court Trial Lawyers Association, are scheduled to meet today with Council Chairman David A. Clarke, who has expressed his support for a raise.
The lawyers also are scheduled to meet Monday with Rolark, and on Wednesday with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), chairman of a Senate subcommittee on the District.