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Criminal Justice

Defense Lawyers Say They Get Less Than Minimum Wage for ‘Token Representation’ Under New Fla. Law

Posted Jul 16, 2012 10:44 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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A new Florida law that went into effect on July 1 is intended to cut the cost to the state of court-appointed public defenders.

But the new flat fees it imposes for all cases except first-degree murder and racketeering means that defense attorneys can get less than less than the state-mandated minimum wage of $7.67 per hour for their work, reports the Palm Beach Post.

And it's a false savings, because the "token representation" the new law provides will cost the state in the long run, through increased appellate costs due to inadequate representation at the trial level, according to an objection filed by the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and attorney Nellie King, who is a past president of the group.

The defense lawyers group is asking the chief judge of Miami-Dade Circuit Court and the Florida Supreme Court to put a stop to the new state schedule of flat fees for criminal defense work, calling it unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, criminal defense lawyers are saying they face a difficult choice between cutting the amount of work they do to defend a case or simply refusing to take on court appointments.

Joe Walsh says he got less than a third of what he would normally be paid when he filled in for an ailing attorney who had to step aside from a client's aggravated battery case. The fee, which he split with the prior attorney, was $1,000. Walsh put in around 40 hours, winning a time-served sentence because workers had cleaned up evidence before it could be established whether the client was tied to a store stabbing.

"It’s sad, because the legislature is putting financial concerns over a defendant’s constitutional right to representation,” says Walsh, a West Palm Beach practitioner.

Related coverage:

ABAJournal.com: "How to Meet New Caseload Limit for Wash. Public Defenders? Some Towns May File Fewer Cases"

ABAJournal.com: "‘Indigent’ Defendants Must Prove Financial Status and Tap Retirement Accounts, Top Mass. Court Rules"

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