Can I fire my court-appointed public defender?

Judges rarely grant requests to substitute a new lawyer for current appointed counsel.

By , Attorney · Santa Clara University School of Law


I don't think my PD is doing a good job. Can I fire her and get another lawyer in the office?


Defendants sometimes ask judges to fire their appointed counsel (P.D. or panel attorney) and appoint a new one. Often, the stated reason is something like, "My attorney and I don't see eye to eye about case strategy," or, "My attorney won't talk to me." Judges rarely grant such requests, believing that most of them stem from frustration with the system rather than the reason actually stated by the defendant. Most indigent defendants must therefore either accept whatever lawyer the judge appoints or represent themselves if they are qualified to do so. The right to counsel of choice does not extend to defendants who require appointed attorneys (U.S. v. Gonzales-Lopez, U.S. Sup. Ct. 2006).

However, if a defendant is able to offer concrete proof that communications with a court-appointed lawyer have completely broken down, the defendant may be able to successfully pursue a Motion for Substitution of Attorney.

Instead of asking a judge to order a change of a court-appointed attorney, a defendant may have better luck asking the attorney to agree to the change. Rather than continue to represent a defendant with whom communications have broken down, court-appointed attorneys tend to honor such a request, and judges tend to go along.


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