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A Twin Falls man says his public defender failed him. Now he hopes reforms will help others like him.

TWIN FALLS — Five years ago, two men stole a generator.

One of the men hired a private attorney, and the charges against him were dropped.

The other, Scott Macklin, couldn’t afford to hire a lawyer and opted to use an attorney from the Twin Falls Public Defender’s Office. He pleaded guilty to grand theft, a felony, and was sentenced to four years of supervised probation.

Probation didn’t last long: In 2015, Macklin, who has struggled with substance abuse, violated his terms. His probation officer requested two days of discretionary time to help Macklin get back on track; instead, he was sentenced to five years in prison. An application to drug court was denied.

While serving his time at St. Anthony Work Camp, a minimum security facility in eastern Idaho, Macklin met a fellow inmate who suggested he file a post-conviction relief case to appeal his sentence. Macklin liked the idea.

He applied for relief with a list of allegations: that his attorney hadn’t told him that he could get prison time if he pled guilty to the probation violation, that his attorney didn’t object to a prejudicial letter supposedly written by Macklin’s mother — Macklin claims the letter isn’t in her handwriting — and that his attorney didn’t present evidence that might have worked in Macklin’s favor, including proof that he had gone through substance abuse treatment and letters from friends defending his character.

The second allegation stuck, and Macklin was granted relief due to ineffective counsel last November.

Today, he’s out of prison. Though he ultimately got the outcome he was hoping for, the years-long legal battle left him feeling failed by the state’s public defense system.

Scott Macklin isn’t alone in that feeling. A growing body of research on Idaho’s overworked and underfunded public defenders has led to consensus across the board — from defendants to politicians to the public defenders themselves — that the system needs to change. How to bring about that change is a much harder question.

“I think we all have the same goal, to improve the system, but we all have different ideas of how that should be done,” said Kimberly Simmons, executive director of Idaho’s Public Defense Commission. “And since no state has been designated as the gold standard of public defense, it makes it even more difficult.”

Most of the flaws in Idaho’s public defense system aren’t new, Simmons says. But a national push for criminal justice reform in recent years has led many states, including Idaho, to take a closer look at the workloads of public defenders.

The findings aren’t good. One study released earlier this year by the Public Defense Commission and Boise State University found that public defenders in Idaho are only able to spend an average of four hours on each felony case: a far cry from the 38 hours the attorneys surveyed said they needed, and an even farther cry from the roughly 65 hours recommended by a group of defense experts.

The state has begun to take steps in recent years to improve the system. Since it was established in 2014, the Public Defense Commission has created some new standards, such as requiring that an attorney be present at an arraignment and provided additional training opportunities for public defenders across the state.

A grant created in 2016 lets counties apply for up to 15 percent of what they spend on public defense. All Magic Valley counties applied for the grant last year, and are expected to apply again this year.

“It’s helped out quite a bit” in Twin Falls County, Commissioner Don Hall said. The Twin Falls County Public Defender’s Office is currently in the process of hiring an additional investigator and office support staff member.

The Jerome County public defense system, which uses contracted private attorneys rather than full-time public defenders, has also expanded. Ten years ago, the county had three public defenders: one for felonies, one for misdemeanors, and one for juvenile cases. Now there are two attorneys who handle felonies and two for misdemeanors.

Some additional legislation passed by state lawmakers this year aims to more thoroughly ensure that public defenders have the proper resources and training and that counties are able to fund those resources.

New standards approved by the legislature will require counties to provide resources for investigation and experts and increase the amount of training for attorneys representing defendants facing the death penalty. The standards will also strengthen oversight and enforcement of those rules.

Other legislation passed this year will let county commissioners apply for funding for extraordinary litigation, or cases that are unusually costly for that county. Under current statute, only attorneys can apply.

The past five years have produced a relative flurry of public defense reform at the state level, especially when compared to previous decades. But some say that reform isn’t happening at the necessary pace. An ongoing class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Idaho, asking the court to declare the public defense system unconstitutional, aims to speed things up.

“While the state at this point knows its biggest problems, it’s still moving slowly to address them,” says Richard Eppink, legal director of the ACLU of Idaho. “Those changes are not trickling down to the courtrooms and individual families that are caught up in that system because the state’s just not moving quickly enough.” Stacey DePew, one of two felony public defenders in Jerome County, agrees that Idaho is still in a “transition stage” where statewide changes haven’t fully manifested.

However, she notes, the Public Defense Commission has had at least one immediate effect in Jerome County: it’s made it easier for public defenders to track their workload.

A lack of data on public defense puts Idaho at a disadvantage when it comes to reform. None of the public defender systems in Idaho are on the same case management system, and attorneys don’t typically track their time.

The new emphasis on data collection doesn’t just help researchers. It also gives public defenders an important tool when approaching politicians for additional funding or reform, DePew says.

“It’s one thing to say people have a right to counsel, but it’s another thing to fund that,” she says. “I think the Public Defense Commission and those changes have put it in the forefront where they can’t just back burner the idea.”

The next step for the Commission: coming up with a statewide workload standard based on that new data, expected later this year. Twin Falls County is holding off on making any big changes until then, Hall said.

Macklin of Twin Falls said he would like to see more reforms in the future. He hopes that sharing his story will give a voice to others whose lives have been affected.

“If I don’t speak out for other clients,” he said, “who will?”

'A point of crisis': Trump orders troops deployed to border

WASHINGTON — Asserting the situation had reached “a point of crisis,” President Donald Trump on Wednesday signed a proclamation ordering the deployment of the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border to fight illegal immigration.

“The lawlessness that continues at our southern border is fundamentally incompatible with the safety, security, and sovereignty of the American people,” Trump wrote in a memo authorizing the move, adding that his administration had “no choice but to act.”

The announcement came hours after Trump pledged “strong action today” on immigration and a day after he said he announced he wanted to use the military to secure the southern border until his long-promised, stalled border wall is erected.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said she had been working with governors of the southwest border states to develop agreements on where and how many Guardsmen will be deployed.

She suggested some troops could begin arriving as soon as Wednesday night, though other administration officials cautioned that details on troop levels, locations and timing were still being worked out.

Trump has been frustrated by slow action on building his “big, beautiful wall” along the Mexican border — the signature promise of his campaign — as well as a recent uptick in illegal border crossings, which had plunged during the early months of his presidency, giving Trump an accomplishment to point to when he had few.

Federal law prohibits the use of active-duty service members for law enforcement inside the U.S., unless specifically authorized by Congress. But over the past 12 years, presidents have twice sent National Guard troops to the border to bolster security and assist with surveillance and other support.

Nielsen said the effort would be similar to a 2006 operation in which President George W. Bush deployed troops to help U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel with non-law enforcement duties while additional border agents were hired and trained. President Barack Obama also sent about 1,200 troops in 2010 to beef up efforts against drug smuggling and illegal immigration.

Nielsen said her department had developed a list of locations where it would like assistance on things like aerial surveillance and other support, and was discussing with the governors how to facilitate the plans. She declined to say how many personnel would be needed or how much the operation would cost, but she insisted, “It will be as many as is needed to fill the gaps that we have today.”

One congressional aide said that lawmakers anticipate 300 to 1,200 troops will be deployed and that the cost was expected to be at least $60 million to $120 million a year. The Pentagon would probably need authorization from Congress for any funding beyond a few months, said the aide, who wasn’t authorized to speak publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Governors of the four U.S. states bordering Mexico were largely supportive of the move. The office of California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat who has sparred with Trump on immigration issues, said any federal request would be promptly reviewed to determine how the state could best offer its assistance.

But in Mexico, senators urged President Enrique Pena Nieto to temporarily suspend cooperation with the U.S. on immigration and security issues. In a nonbinding statement approved unanimously Wednesday, the senators asked Mexico’s government to freeze joint efforts “in the fight against transnational organized crime” until Trump starts acting “with the civility and respect that the people of Mexico deserve.”

Trump first revealed Tuesday that he’d been discussing the idea of using the military at the border with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

“We’re going to be doing things militarily. Until we can have a wall and proper security, we’re going to be guarding our border with the military,” Trump said.

He spent the first months of his presidency bragging about a dramatic drop in illegal border crossings, which some DHS officials had even dubbed the “Trump effect.” Indeed, arrests at the border last April were at the lowest level since DHS was created in 2003, and the 2017 fiscal year saw a 45-year low for Border Patrol arrests.

But the numbers have been slowly ticking up since last April and are now on par with many months of the Obama administration. New statistics released Wednesday show about 50,000 arrests of people trying to cross the southwest border last month, a 37 percent increase from the previous month, and a 203 percent increase compared to March 2017. The monthly increase follows typical seasonal fluctuations.

In Texas, which already has about 100 National Guard members stationed on the border, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, said the president’s decision “reinforces Texas’ longstanding commitment to secure our southern border and uphold the Rule of Law.”

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, said she appreciated the Trump administration’s efforts to involve states in the effort to better secure the border. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, also a Republican, tweeted that his state “welcomes the deployment of National Guard to the border. Washington has ignored this issue for too long and help is needed.”

Downtown brewpub slated for summer opening

TWIN FALLS — Renovations are taking place in earnest at the historic Elks Lodge in downtown Twin Falls, and a new brewpub is slated to open in early summer.

A building permit for the core and shell remodel at 205 Shoshone St. N. was granted in March to Summit Creek Capital. The work is valued at $1.5 million but is only a portion of the $4 million the company expects to spend on the former Historic Ballroom.

Once completed, the building at one of downtown’s core intersections will house a brewpub with a restaurant operated by the partners of Elevation 486. Retail and offices are to follow.

“We’ve done quite a bit of demolition outside,” Summit Creek Capital Managing Director Tyler Davis-Jeffers said. The company also “tore a lot of the interior walls out that were added over the years.”

Summit Creek Capital aims to restore the historic building to its former glory. The company is adding new windows and removed the stucco that covered up some of the windows on the ground floor.

Davis-Jeffers said the company is still seeking tenants for its upper floor and downstairs retail, but right now its focus is on getting the restaurant ready to open this summer.

The Urban Renewal Agency previously tore down a building next to the historic Elks Lodge, in order for the company to build a ground level and lower level patio facing the alley. The URA will also reimburse Summit Creek Capital for sidewalk and landscaping along Shoshone Street and Second Avenue North. Davis-Jeffers said there will be some impact on pedestrians and traffic, but he anticipates it won’t be for long.

While Twin Falls’ building department issued no building permits for new commercial buildings in March, it did approve 11 permits for commercial additions and remodels, with a combined value of more than $2.7 million. The city also issued 24 new single-family home permits.

In total, the building department issued 292 permits in March with a value of $7.5 million. Although there was a lull in both number of permits and overall values from a year ago, the city is up for the year-to-date in both those categories. Twin Falls lags, however, in new home permits for the year.

Other commercial permits of interest issued in March included:

  • A $450,000 remodel for Debra Gates’ building at 147 Main Ave. E., next to the downtown plaza. Starr Corp. is the contractor for both projects and will run them concurrently, URA director Nathan Murray said.
  • A $150,000 tenant improvement remodel for a Pizza Hut at 1553 Washington St. N., No. 300.
  • A $260,000 addition at Homestyle Direct LLC, 2032 Highland Ave. E. for a new freezer.
  • An $80,000 remodel at Kapstone Paper, 348 South Park Ave. W., for an interior wall opening.
  • A $42,000 remodel to create two tenant spaces at 420 Falls Ave., on behalf of the Idaho Department of Labor and Glanbia.

US and China threaten tariffs as fears rise

WASHINGTON — The world’s two biggest economies stand at the edge of the most perilous trade conflict since World War II. Yet there’s still time to pull back from the brink.

Financial markets bounced up and down Wednesday over the brewing U.S.-China trade war after Beijing and Washington proposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of each other’s products in a battle over the aggressive tactics China employs to develop its high-tech industries.

“The risks of escalation are clear,” Adam Slater, global economist at Oxford Economics, wrote in a research note. “Threats to the U.S.-China relationship are the most dangerous for global growth.”

There’s time for the two countries to resolve the dispute through negotiations in the coming weeks. The United States will not tax 1,300 Chinese imports — from hearing aids to flamethrowers — until it has spent weeks collecting public comments.

It’s likely to get an earful from American farmers and businesses that want to avoid a trade war at all costs.

Also, China did not say when it would impose tariffs on 106 U.S. products, including soybeans and small aircraft, and it announced it is challenging America’s import duties at the World Trade Organization.

Lawrence Kudlow, the top White House economic adviser, sought to ease fears of a deepening trade conflict with China, telling reporters that the tariffs the U.S. announced Tuesday are “potentially” just a negotiating ploy.

“We’re very lucky that we have the best negotiator at the table in the president, and we’re going to go through that process,” said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. “It will be a couple months before tariffs on either side would go into effect and be implemented, and we’re hopeful that China will do the right thing.”

The prospect of a negotiated end to the dispute calmed nerves on Wall Street. After plunging in early trading, the Dow Jones industrial average ended up rising 231 points, or nearly 1 percent, to 24,264.

The sanctions standoff started last month when the United States slapped tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. On Monday, China countered by announcing tariffs on $3 billion worth of U.S. products. The next day, the United States proposed the $50 billion in duties on Chinese imports, and Beijing lashed back within hours with a threat of further tariffs of its own.

Things could easily escalate. The U.S. Treasury is working on plans to restrict Chinese technology investments in the United States. And there’s talk that the U.S. could also put limits on visas for Chinese who want to visit or study in this country.

For its part, China conspicuously left large aircraft off its sanctions list Wednesday, suggesting it is reserving the option to target Boeing if relations deteriorate further.

Douglas Irwin, a Dartmouth College economist who has just written a history of U.S. trade policy, said the tit-for-tat tariffs are shaping up as the biggest trade battle since World War II.

“It’s huge,” he said.

In 1987, the Reagan administration triggered shockwaves by slapping tariffs on just $300 million worth of Japanese imports — that’s million with an “m’’ — in a dispute over the semiconductor industry. Those tariffs covered less than 1 percent of Japanese imports at the time.

The tariffs the U.S. unveiled Tuesday apply to nearly 10 percent of Chinese goods imports of $506 billion.

And during the dispute three decades ago, Japan, a close U.S. ally, chose not to retaliate. It eventually gave in to U.S. demands.

“What we’ve seen with China is very different,” Irwin said. “When the steel tariffs went in — boom, they came back with retaliation. ... They were not going to take it lying down.”

Making matters trickier, the dispute over Chinese technology policy strikes at the heart of Beijing’s ambitions to become the global leader in cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence and quantum computing.

In August, President Donald Trump ordered the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to investigate China’s tech policies, particularly longstanding allegations that it coerces U.S. companies into handing over sensitive technology to gain access to the Chinese market. The tariffs proposed Tuesday were the result of that investigation.

The U.S. also accuses China of treating U.S. companies unfairly when they try to do business there and of encouraging Chinese hackers to break into U.S. corporate computer systems and steal trade secrets.

The Trump administration is coming under intense pressure to de-escalate the dispute. American farmers, who disproportionately supported Trump in the 2016 election, are especially outspoken in seeking trade peace. After all, China buys nearly 60 percent of American soybean exports.

“American farmers are waking up this morning to the prospect of a 25 percent tax on exports that help sustain their farming operations,” said former U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, co-chair of Farmers for Free Trade. “We urge the administration to reconsider escalating this trade war.”

Some analysts predict Beijing will ultimately yield to U.S. demands because it relies far more heavily on the U.S. market than American businesses rely on China’s.