By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
Gov. Brad Little announced Wednesday the appointment of Eric Fredericksen as State Public Defender to lead the newly created Office of the State Public Defender.
Fredericksen’s appointment is the first of its kind as the state transitions from using county-paid public defense to state-paid public defense, following the passage of HB 236 earlier this year.
In 2021, the Idaho Supreme Court unanimously found Idaho’s public defense system to be problematic, following years of litigation. As a result, legislators in 2022 created a new model for public defense. It eliminated the Public Defense Commission and created the Office of the State Public Defender.
Fredericksen will lead that office and work with county officials and public defenders to transition. The new office is set to begin providing indigent defense services on Oct. 1, 2024. His appointment will be effective Sept. 25 of this year.
Fredericksen has served as the State Appellate Public Defender since his appointment by Gov. Butch Otter in 2016 and was twice reappointed to that position by Little, according to a press release from the Governor’s Office. The SAPD is a separate office that provides appellate public defense services.
Fredericksen was chief of the Appellate Unit and a lead attorney at the SAPD. He also worked as an associate attorney at Brady Law in Boise where he practiced civil and criminal litigation. Since 2016, he has served as the Vice-Chair of the Idaho State Public Defense Commission and on several Idaho Supreme Court committees.
The U.S. Constitution’s Sixth Amendment states that all criminal defendants have the right to an attorney if they cannot afford one. Previously, the state mandated counties pay for public defense.
The new Office of the State Public Defender must ensure qualified defending attorneys, investigators and other staff, as well as appropriate facilities for providing indigent public defense. The state must employ a district public defender in each of the state’s seven judicial districts.
Fredericksen and district public defenders are required, to the greatest extent possible, to provide the option to current defending attorneys employed by a county office to continue their employment with the Office of the State Public Defender, working in the county that previously employed them, according to the legislation.
“I am humbled and appreciative of Governor Little’s appointment to this position,” Fredericksen said through the press release. “Over the last decade, Idaho has become a leader and innovator in providing indigent defense services. Although I am saddened to leave the talented and dedicated attorneys and staff at the SAPD, I am excited to lead and support the exceptional trial defenders we have throughout Idaho.”
The shift from county-based to state-based public defense is also intended to relieve pressure on local property taxes.