Saturday, February 6, 2010

Indigent defendants take a hit

In its infinite wisdom, Harris County Commissioners' Court has decided to balance its budget on the backs of indigent defendants. The new policy on compensation for appointed counsel represents a one-third cut for attorneys taking court appointments.

The old policy allowed appointed counsel to bill the county for up to three cases a day. The new policy states that appointed counsel will only be paid for two cases a day. In addition, if an indigent defendant retains other counsel, the appointed attorney will not be paid for an appearance if he is substituted out. Nevermind that the attorney had no knowledge of the substitution at the time he entered the courthouse that morning.

Oh well, it's not like indigent defendants comprise a large voting constituency for county-wide elections.


A Harris County Lawyer said...

My thing with this new proposal is how exactly is it supposed to save the county money? What is the difference if you three attorneys handling six cases a day versus two attorneys? The defendants will still have to be represented, won't they?

I can actually understand the not getting paid on days you get subbed out because you don't really do any work. Hopefully, our fellow attorneys will be considerate and let us know in advance when we're getting subbed out.

I think the biggest problem here, however, is the message it sends. The D.A.'s Office isn't taking a kick in the financial crotch like the defense bar is. I'm hoping HCCLA will make a stand on this, despite the fact that we're divided over the whole Public Defender's Office issue.

Houston DWI Attorney Paul B. Kennedy, said...

Thanks for the comment. I guess one way to be "hard on crime" is to squeeze the defense bar so tight an indigent defendant's 6th Amendment right to counsel becomes meaningless.