"Some counties were simply hiring the least experienced defense attorney, usually somebody right out of law school, and paying them a flat rate, saying you have all these cases and this is what you get paid," Brickey said. "There's very little incentive for some defense attorneys with any experience to jump in and take those cases."
Public defenders typically represent people who have little support or financial ability to defend him or herself, he said.
In 1963, the federal government recognized the constitutional right to counsel in a case where a court held that a person who might receive jail time for a state crime is guaranteed the opportunity for a state-appointed attorney to provide adequate defense.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) threatened to sue Utah last year, citing several counties as being deficient in providing adequate public defense services: Box Elder County, Daggett County, Duchesne County, Iron County, Kane County, San Juan County, Sevier County, Uintah County and Weber County.
"What we saw confirmed that our initial concerns were well-founded in every county we studied, the public defender system fails in almost every respect," said a ACLU report issued in 2011. "Public defenders in the counties we studied appear to be chronically underfunded and overworked, with some handling caseloads that, based on the contract fee, result in $400 or less per felony. Those same caseloads may result in an average of less than 10 hours to spend on each such case."
For the last three years, Brickey has been participating in a monthly group of court representatives, judges, defense attorneys and ACLU representatives to ensure defendants receive the best possible defense, particularly in the counties identified as deficient in public defense.
"Summit County was one of the first to step up and say, we'll educate and pay for continuing legal education for our public defenders," Brickey said. "Usually that's been the responsibility of the individual defense attorney. So we've led in that regard."
Summit County also recently implemented a new system allowing a public defender to hire a private investigator if needed.
"It was those sorts of things that made certain defense attorneys' caseload numbers stayed in check and comparable to prosecutors' case loads, so it doesn't appear defense attorneys are overwhelmed with the case numbers they're seeing," he said.
Recognizing his efforts on behalf of Utah's public defense system, the state's 28 county attorneys selected Brickey as County Attorney of the Year.
Brickey said he was flattered and pleased.
"As a prosecutor, you generally do not want your name in the news," Brickey laughed. "Prosecutors who show up in the news, it's either because they messed up or the trial didn't go the way they wanted. But in this instance, it is good news. So I appreciate that. For a couple years, the prosecutors have been getting cuts in most of our divisions. So this was a nice recognition."
Brickey, a native Utahn, graduated from Highland High School and the University of Utah, before moving to Oregon to study law at Willamette University in Oregon. He has been working as a Summit County attorney for 14 years.
"My family had always had a second home in Park City, and I always thought that if I got an opportunity to come and live here full-time, I'd jump at it. This was a great opportunity to come back," Brickey said.