In 1970, the Multnomah County Bar Association established a private, not-for-profit corporation called the Metropolitan Public Defender Services, Inc. to provide effective assistance of counsel to indigent persons accused of a crime in Multnomah County.
Prior to this time, a large segment of the criminal caseload was handled in the Municipal Court under the City of Portland. The rights of people accused of a crime and those facing involuntary commitment to mental hospitals were just being recognized. Statutes did exist that required appointment of counsel and payment by the county; however, enabling legislation to permit the establishment of local public defenders did not exist. Since that time, there has been a growing cost for court-appointed counsel and an increased use of public defender programs, not only in Oregon, but nationally.
On July 1, 1971 under the leadership of founding director Jim Hennings, the Metropolitan Public Defender began providing services as court-appointed counsel in Multnomah County. Originally, funding came from a Federal Law Enforcement Administrative Act (LEAA) grant, but this was supplemented six months later on January 1, 1972, by a contract with Multnomah County.
In October 1973, the Metropolitan Public Defender initiated operations in Washington County under an LEAA grant. After nine months of operation, Washington County contracted annually for services from MPD.
In January 1983, the State of Oregon assumed the responsibility of providing indigent defense services through the Oregon Supreme Court. The Court assumed the existing contracts between MPD and Multnomah and Washington Counties. Subsequent contracts were made by the state for services in those counties through to this present day.
The Metropolitan Public Defender has grown from one office with two attorneys to two offices with approximately 60 attorneys and a total staff of around 140. It is now the largest public defender in the state of Oregon. Its attorneys have become leaders in the Oregon trial bar and its alumni have become judges, prosecutors, partners in several large Portland firms, and leaders in the profession including two past Oregon Bar Presidents. The office has run special projects to initiate the Federal Public Defender in Oregon, to provide death penalty representation, to represent children in termination of parental rights cases throughout the state, to provide a special Indian Children Welfare Act program, to establish a special Drug Diversion court and to start two Community Courts in Portland. Most recently MPD has started the Veterans’ Project to help provide legal services to low income veterans. The office has become the forerunner of other trial level public defenders in Oregon and a leader in the push for standards for indigent defense systems and attorneys.
Today, MPD is supervised by a seven member citizen Board of Trustees. They are responsible for hiring and supervising MPD’s Executive Director, oversee long range policies, and sign contracts for services. Three of the board members are appointed by the Multnomah County Commissioner, the Washington County Commissioner and the President of the Oregon Bar Association. The fourth member is appointed by the Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court and the remaining board members are selected by the Board itself.
Jim Hennings served as the first Executive Director for 37 years before retiring in 2008 when the Board hired Lane Borg. Lane started with MPD as a student, and as a staff attorney in the 1980’s, returning after 20 years in private practice to become the second Executive Director. As of January, 2018 Lane became the Executive Director of Oregon Public Defense Services. Recently retired judge Ed Jones is the interim Executive Director. Prior to becoming a judge, Ed was the Executive Director of MDI, another public defender in Multnomah County. Carl Macpherson has accepted the permanent Executive Director position and begins end of August 2018.
The Metropolitan Public Defender has been recognized nationally for its methods of utilizing paralegal support staff to increase the efficiency and adequacy of attorney representation. MPD also pioneered the effort to locate and utilize alternatives to incarceration. It continues to work with a broad range of groups to encourage and develop community resources that seek to remove persons permanently from a criminal life.
The Metropolitan Public Defender enjoys one other unique aspect. It provides most of the services for a major government function, the provision of defense services to indigents, but is not itself a government agency. Since its inception, MPD has operated as a contract agency. Thus, the MPD is demonstrating a method of providing major services without adding governmental employees.
The Metropolitan Public Defender’s standards of representation are reflected in the fact that since it was contracted in 1971 MPD has handled hundreds of thousands of cases with fewer than one hundred complaints concerning the quality of representation provided. This is a remarkable record when matched with the fact that a large percentage of the clients receive jail and penitentiary sentences.
MPD’s mission is to provide quality representation and zealous advocacy to each client, to conduct our work with professionalism and dignity, and to promote improvement in the administration of justice.