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Public defender’s office lacks resources to pick up all cases

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HILO » The federal public defender’s office in Hono­lulu has turned down a Hilo man’s wire fraud case, the first refusal of potentially others because of automatic budget cuts, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported.

First Assistant Federal Defender Alexander Silvert said in a motion filed in court this week that his office doesn’t have the resources to defend Justin Wade Smith, 32, who is accused of scamming investors of more than $1 million.

Silvert said his office has notified the court that it will refuse to take certain cases.

The office has laid off some attorneys and staff, while its caseload has increased, he told the newspaper.

"Given that, sequestration hasn’t seemed to have any effect on the prosecution side of the equation," Silvert said. "They’re fully staffed and they keep bringing more cases. It’s a tragedy and it’s a travesty of justice, and quite frankly, the politicians are at fault for this."

Sequestration refers to the automatic federal budget cuts that went into effect March 1.

According to the indictment, Smith claimed to be a trust-fund heir who needed money from others to access his inheritance. He allegedly promised investment returns to those who provided money for so-called "advance fees."

The indictment also alleges he purported to represent a law enforcement agency, promising investors sizable returns from law enforcement seizures.

A judge will appoint a private attorney to represent Smith at taxpayers’ expense.

Smith is scheduled for trial next month on 39 counts of wire fraud. He is being held without bail.

If convicted, Smith could face up to 20 years in prison.

Defending Smith would require hiring forensic accountants, tracking down witnesses, poring over thousands of pages of discovery and paying airfare for investigators to travel to Hawaii island, Silvert said.

 

"We feel bad that we can’t represent Mr. Smith and people like him because that’s what we’re supposed to do," he said. "But we’re just in a situation now where we’ve got to do what we can do with limited resources that we have, and we have to make choices."

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