As of this month, Howard County’s Public Defender Office has a new leader.
On May 1, the Howard County Public Defender Board appointed long-time Chief Deputy Public Defender Andrew Vandenbosch to succeed Steven Raquet as the county’s chief public defender. And the new chief public defender said he’s got plans to improve the office’s function of defending those who can’t afford their own legal representation within the justice system.
“I see the complaints that come in from public defender clients, and primarily, it demonstrates to me we need to focus on better and more efficient communication with clients,” said Vandenbosch. “Not knowing is sometimes worse for them while incarcerated … Sometimes that is difficult because once they are released from jail we have a very transient population who are not always the best at keeping their public defenders apprised of how to get in touch with them, but it’s something we’ll continue to work on and improve to provide high-quality representation.”
Vandenbosch stepped into his new role after spending two decades with the public defender’s office. He initially was hired as a deputy public defender in 2000. A native of Howard County, Vandenbosch said he was drawn to work as a public defender due to the larger implications of the work.
“Somewhere in the course of college and law school I decided I wanted to become a defense attorney because I see the defense attorney as the last bastion fighting for our constitutional rights as the citizens of this country,” said Vandenbosch. “That’s where I felt like my heart was. I enjoy doing criminal defense and feel like you’re not only serving your client, but there’s a bigger purpose in protecting constitutional rights in the cases you’re handling on a grander scale.”
After five years with the office, he was promoted to the position of chief deputy public defender, a position he held up until his appointment as chief public defender.
In recent years, the public defender’s office has dealt with issues relating to high caseloads. Public defenders, according to state guidelines, must adhere to specific parameters regarding the number of cases they can handle. If that is exceeded, the county they work out of will not receive reimbursements in funding from the state.
According to Vandenbosch, the 17 deputy public defenders now working for the county (with one more set to be hired), most often work right around the maximum caseload quarterly. This could make improving communications between clients and their legal representation difficult. But, he said he hoped to address the issue.
“That’s the nature of the job,” said Vandenbosch. “I’m hoping through more efficient management of the public defenders’ caseloads, the ones that are a little lower on the caseload level can pick up some of the weight to relieve some of the ones who are at the maximum. It’s very complex because we try to assign certain public defenders to certain areas or certain courts, but we will need to have some flexibility in order to maximize the efficiency. That can be tweaked and become a lot more efficient with the caseload levels we have.”
Another change the new chief public defender said he intended to make was something of a departure from the practices of a predecessor. With his new position, Vandenbosch said he would carry a caseload.
“I intend to carry a caseload that will have to be commensurate with my duties and responsibilities as the chief executive officer of the agency and the responsibilities that come with that,” said Vandenbosch. “But I do intend to carry a caseload, and I’m hoping to focus on some of the bigger, more time-consuming cases to alleviate that burden from some of the other public defenders.”