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The head of Metropolitan Public Defenders reacts after public defender shortage blamed for crisis.

A day after Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt said the lack of public defenders is a public safety threat, the head of the public defenders told KOIN 6 News the whole justice system is struggling at this time.

"There's multiple factors that are exacerbating a system that's already in crisis," said Carl MacPherson, the executive director of the Metropolitan Public Defenders. "It's also prosecutors' office, police, courts, police."

COURTESY PHOTO: OPB - Carl MacPherson, the executive director of the Metropolitan Public Defenders.MPD has lost 19 attorneys so far in 2022, MacPherson said, noting the pay scales are a huge issue when it comes to recruitment and retention.

"We have a retention issue, and a shortage of people to do the work," he said. "That is one aspect of the public safety crisis we're in."

Schmidt on Monday said the shortage of public defenders is "an urgent threat to public safety" and said the Multnomah County Circuit Court has dismissed hundreds of cases due to a lack of defense counsel.

"Months into this crisis, many are still waiting for their day in court while others have seen their cases dismissed altogether. This sends a message to crime victims in our community that justice is unavailable, and their harm will go unaddressed," the DA said in a statement. "It also sends a message to individuals who have committed a crime that there is no accountability while burning through scarce police and prosecutor resources. Every day that this crisis persists presents an urgent and continuing threat to public safety."

Jessica Kampfe, the newly appointed executive director of the Oregon Office of Public Defense, said in a statement, "Public defenders need significant investments to retain existing staffing levels and increase capacity so that they can deliver client centered representation to all qualifying individuals in a way that improves public safety across Oregon."

KOIN 6 News is a news partner of the Pamplin Media Group. Oregon Public Broadcasting contributed to this story.

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