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Hasting v. Roberts

Supreme Court of Alabama

February 17, 2017

Melvin Hasting
v.
Christopher Roberts, individually and in his capacity as the director of the Office of Indigent Defense Services

         Appeal from Montgomery Circuit Court (CV-15-901412)

          BOLIN, Justice.

         Melvin Hasting appeals from the trial court's order dismissing his claim seeking injunctive relief against Christopher Roberts, individually and in his official capacity as the director of the Office of Indigent Defense Services ("OIDS").

         Facts and Procedural History

         Section 41-4-321, Ala. Code 1975, created OIDS within the Department of Finance. OIDS is tasked with "develop[ing] and improv[ing] programs to provide legal representation to indigents" in the State. § 41-4-322(a), Ala. Code 1975. OIDS has to have a director who is tasked with "develop[ing] standards governing the provision of defense services, " which standards shall include "prescribing minimum experience, training, and other qualifications for appointed counsel [or] contract counsel." § 41-4-322(c), Ala. Code 1975. Roberts was appointed director of OIDS in April 2015.

         Section 15-12-4, Ala. Code 1975, provides for the establishment in each judicial circuit in the State of a voluntary indigent-defense advisory board ("the advisory board"). The advisory board shall consist of five members who are residents of the judicial circuit; those five members shall include the presiding circuit judge as the chair, the president of the local circuit bar association, and three attorneys who are selected by the bar commissioner for the circuit. § 15-12-4(b), Ala. Code 1975. The advisory board in each circuit is required by statute to determine the method for delivering indigent-defense services in the circuit and shall certify its system to the Indigent Defense Review Panel ("the review panel") on or before October 1 of each year. § 15-12-4(e), Ala. Code 1975; § 41-4-322(d), Ala. Code 1975. If the advisory board chooses to use a contract-counsel system for indigent defense, the advisory board "shall follow the procedures of the director for requesting and accepting applications or proposals for such contracts and shall make a recommendation for contract counsel to the director." § 15-12-26(b), Ala. Code 1975. The director may appeal the determination of the advisory board to the review panel, which "shall make a decision in a timely manner, which decision shall be deemed final." § 15-12-4(e)(1), Ala. Code 1975. The review panel consists of five members who each serve a three-year term. Two members of the review panel are appointed by the president of the Alabama State Bar, one member is appointed by the president of the Alabama Circuit Judges Association, one member is appointed by the president of the District Judges Association, and one member is appointed by the president of the Alabama Lawyers Association. § 41-4-324, Ala. Code 1975.

         For the fiscal years 2012-2013, 2013-2014, and 2014-2015, the advisory board in Cullman County chose the contract-counsel system as its method of providing indigent defense in that county and submitted recommendations to the director of OIDS of the attorneys it had determined should receive the contracts to provide the indigent defense. Hasting was one of the attorneys recommended by the advisory board to receive a felony indigent-defense contract for a shortened term in 2013 and for the fiscal years 2013-2014 and 2014-2015. OIDS accepted the advisory board's recommendations and awarded Hasting an indigent-defense contract in each of those fiscal years.

         For the fiscal year 2015-2016 the advisory board again determined that the contract-counsel system should be the method of providing indigent defense in Cullman County and submitted its recommendations to Roberts of the attorneys who should receive the indigent-defense contracts. The advisory board did not recommend Hasting as one of those attorneys who should receive an indigent-defense contract for fiscal year 2015-2016.

         On September 1, 2015, Hasting sued Roberts, individually and in his official capacity, seeking certain injunctive and declaratory relief.[1] Hasting alleged, among other things, that Roberts, as the director of OIDS, was required to develop standards governing the provision of indigent-defense services in Cullman County and that Roberts had failed to develop those standards; that the advisory board was in violation of the law because, Hasting said, its membership was not composed as mandated by statute; that the advisory board operated without "guidelines and criteria" for how it chose contract counsel; and that the advisory board recommends giving indigent-defense contracts to attorneys who have obvious conflicts of interest, including members of the advisory board themselves.

         Hasting sought a judgment declaring that the advisory board in Cullman County was operating outside the confines of the applicable statutes; that Roberts was required to dissolve the advisory board if he determined that its composition was unlawful; that Roberts was required to develop standards governing the provision of indigent-defense services in the circuits; that the advisory board was required to have procedures and criteria in place for recommending contract counsel given that the contract-counsel system was the method chosen to provide indigent defense in Cullman County; and that the recommendations of the advisory board were not to be considered if it was determined that they were made unlawfully.

         Hasting's claim for injunctive relief sought to enjoin Roberts from accepting and approving the advisory board's recommendations for the indigent-defense-service contracts for the fiscal year 2015-2016; from terminating preexisting indigent-defense contracts; and from implementing any indigent-defense method without first developing a procedures manual.

         On September 9, 2015, the trial court entered an order setting Hasting's request for a preliminary injunction for a hearing on October 1, 2015. On September 28, 2015, Roberts notified Judge Gregory Nicholas, the presiding judge of Cullman County and chair of the advisory board, that it was his "intention pursuant to Alabama Code [1975, ] Section 15-12-26[, ] to not enter into any indigent defense service contracts" for the 2015-2016 fiscal year and that his decision was based on "pending litigation." After Roberts notified Judge Nicholas of his intention not to enter into any indigent-defense contracts, indigent defense in Cullman County was provided by the appointment method. On September 29, 2015, both Hasting and Roberts jointly moved the trial court to cancel the hearing scheduled for October 1, 2015, on Hasting's request for a preliminary injunction, stating that "both parties agree that said hearing is unnecessary at this time."

         In October 2015, Roberts appealed to the review panel the advisory board's recommendations for the 2015-2016 fiscal year. Roberts stated the following as the basis for his appeal to the review panel:

"1. Currently two civil litigations have been commenced and are pending regarding the composition, procedure, meetings and actions of the Indigent Advisory Board in ...

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