Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy

Kentucky Public Defender Cases before the U.S. Supreme Court

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DPA In the News


Dawn has barely broken, and Melanie Lowe is already in a hurry. She’s on her way to court. A familiar route, timed to the minute. Jericho Road to avoid the train. Burks Branch to skip the lights. She scarfs a protein bar and dials a colleague. No, she can’t cover for another public defender in juvenile court. Too many cases.

For 27 minutes Melanie zips over two-lane roads, the back way through Shelby County. She slips into a parking spot half a block from the courthouse and pops the trunk. Her coffee’s already lukewarm. It’s five minutes to 8. Just enough time to quiz herself on the day’s cases. There’s nothing worse than having to ask a client: What’s your name? Standing at her trunk, she thumbs through green, color-coded files.

Her harried schedule underscores a problem the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy has grappled with for decades: Too many clients and not enough money mean public defenders are being stretched too thin – putting the quality of representation at risk.


To read more, go to




The Advocate


Discovery Reform in Criminal Cases in Kentucky: A Report From the Field and the Need for Statutory Open File Discovery.

Including Sections Discussing:

  • Discovery in a Constitutional Context
  • The Discovery System in Kentucky: On the Books and in the Caselaw
  • The Kentucky System in Actual Practice
  • Recommendations for Discovery Reform

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Our Mission

To provide each client with high quality services through an effective delivery system, which ensures a defender staff dedicated to the interests of their clients and the improvement of the criminal justice system. The Department of Public Advocacy is an independent agency attached for administrative purposes to the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet headed by J. Michael Brown, Secretary. DPA is the statewide public agency providing public defender service in all of Kentucky's 120 counties as will as Kentucky's appellate courts.

History of the DPA

A half century ago the Kentucky Supreme Court held that "common justice demands" that an attorney must be appointed when a person charged with a felony is too poor to hire his own counsel. Gholson v. Commonwealth, 212 S.W.2d 537 (Ky. 1948). In the 1960s Kentucky attorneys began to request compensation when they were forced to represent indigents charged with a crime. In 1963, the United States Supreme Court determined that if a state wants to take away a person's liberty, it has to provide an attorney to those persons too poor to hire their own in order to comply with the Federal Constitution. Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963). While consistently unsuccessful in convincing Kentucky's highest Court that the judiciary could and should order payment, Kentucky's appointed attorneys did persuade the Kentucky Supreme Court to the point that the Court began to directly encourage the General Assembly to provide a systematic solution for paying the attorneys who were being made to represent the accused. On September 22, 1972, Kentucky's highest Court characterized the forced representation of indigents as an "intolerable condition" and held it was an unconstitutional taking of an attorney's property - his service to the client - without compensation. From then on no Kentucky attorney could be required to represent an indigent absent compensation. Bradshaw v. Ball, 487 S.W.2d 294 (Ky. 1972). While the appeal in Bradshaw was pending, the 1972 Legislature, at the request of Governor Wendell Ford, created the Office of Public Defender, now the Department of Public Advocacy (DPA), and gave it the responsibility to represent all persons in Kentucky charged with or convicted of a crime. House Bill 461 sponsored by Representatives Kenton, Graves and Swinford passed the House 60-18 on March 7, 1972 and the Senate 26-5 on March 14, 1972. It allocated $1,287,000 for FY 73 and FY 74.


See Also...
  CLE Opportunities for Criminal Defense Bar
Conferences, live distance learning, and recorded online distances learning from the DPA's Kentucky Public Defender College.



Department of Public Advocacy
200 Fair Oaks Lane
Suite 500
Frankfort, KY 40601

(502) 564-8006 - Phone
(502) 564-7890 - Fax

DPA Map and Directions

Field Office Contact Information

Last Updated 11/23/2015