Timothy O'Toole Quoted on Issues Regarding Potential DC Public Defender's Office Move in the Washington Post

"The government wants to move the DC public defender's office. That could be disastrous."

The Washington Post

12.12.2019

Timothy O'Toole was quoted regarding the possible move of DC's public defender's office, known as Public Defender Services (PDS), to new offices that could be one mile away from the DC Superior Court when PDS's current office lease expires in 2020. The federal government's General Services Administration (GSA) controls whether to renew the current lease or move to a new building, and recently asked for bids for a new office to come from a radius of 1.1 miles from the courthouse where the city's criminal cases are adjudicated. In a city in which almost 40 percent of households don't have a car, "This would have a huge impact on the quality of defense PDS can provide for its clients," said O'Toole, himself a former PDS attorney. "You're constantly going back and forth between the office and the courtroom for paperwork, to consult with clients, or to confer with colleagues. Now, each trip is what, a 25-minute walk each way? This would have a detrimental effect on every single proceeding, in every single case." A good public defender's office operates like a law firm, with different attorneys specializing in different areas of criminal law, O'Toole added. "You'll regularly get requests to help out a colleague that require you to be at the courthouse on a moment's notice," he said. "You can't do that if you're a mile away."

Although GSA required that any bid with offices more than 1,320 feet from the courthouse must include a shuttle service to run every half hour, often relying on paid transportation will quickly drain PDS's budget, and O'Toole said that doesn't really address the problem. "I suppose that's better than nothing," he said, "but a half-hour shuttle service isn't going to get you into a courtroom in five minutes. It doesn't begin to make up for the advantages of being a short walk from the courthouse."