A legislative committee was informed today that, unless states pay lawyers more to represent indigent criminal defendants, there won’t be many attorneys left to take these cases due to a dramatic decrease in the number of lawyers in an eastern state’s three largest counties willing to represent these defendants. The judges of the three big counties claimed that the rates of pay per hour for attorneys who willingly handle the cases of indigent criminal defendants must be raised, and possibly even doubled, from the present low rates.

The attorneys who will take the cases are lacking experience, said one judge. The judge went on to state that the people who are no longer willing to take the cases stop doing so because they are not being paid enough. The judge said that once a lawyer gains experience, they are no longer willing to take the incredibly low rates offered.

This puts indigent defendants at an even-deeper disadvantage because their lawyer is even less-experienced. The judge advocates doubling the fees lawyers are paid for time spent both in and out of court.

Lawyers increasingly decline representation of poor clients due to the fact that they stand to make far more money drafting estate plans, conducting business transactions, or doing civil litigation. The judge reminded the legislators that it wasn’t fair to ask the attorneys to continue to lose money while offering their services to the state. Resulting in some lawyers losing greater amounts of money on appointed criminal cases, a great percentage of the criminal cases of the state will be stuck with appointed representation.

About twenty years ago, budget issues mandated a reduction in attorney fees on indigent criminal cases. The hourly rates of pay for work done inside and outside of court were both substantially lowered.

Lawyers were paid about the same rate two decades ago. Requesting that the committee minimally restore the prior rates per hour, a different county judge agreed with his colleague’s legitimate concern.

This judge has also seen a huge number of attorneys who have left the volunteer list in his court, and the court has suffered for it. By returning the rates to where they’d been before, the judge hopes that attorneys who are thinking about not taking any more indigent cases will continue to take them.

And, just maybe, more attorneys could be lured back to taking the cases. The current system seems to work well, except that everyone wants more money for the lawyers.

Only a small number of practicing attorneys on one county’s list of over 300 are willing to represent indigent defendants, and this number is expected to drop even further. Over ninety percent of the lawyers who won’t take the cases anymore cite economic reasons. Only one-fourth of the lawyers in one district will agree to take on indigent criminal cases.

Further, he stated that the percentage has dropped from the group of volunteers who initially appeared on the roster. No decisions were rendered by the panel charged with making suggestions to lawmakers regarding the issue of pay rates for counsel representing indigent criminal clients.

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