Posted Mar 14, 2011 05:44 pm CDT
Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick suggested in his 2012 budget proposal that the state eliminate 3,000 contract attorney positions from its indigent legal defense program in an effort to save $48 million.
The contract attorneys in the Committee for Public Counsel Services would be replaced with 1,000 public defenders, according to the MetroWest Daily News.
Currently, contract lawyers with the program earn $50 an hour for out-of-court representation, $60 an hour for superior court time and $100 an hour for murder cases, according to the newspaper.
Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, says that eliminating contract lawyers might cost Massachusetts money, instead of saving it. He told the MetroWest Daily News that annually his office pays 3,000 contract lawyers about $51,195 each per year. Hiring 1,000 public defenders, Benedetti adds, would cost about $85,304 per attorney, including benefits, office space, equipment reimbursement and possible future salary increases.
Michael Brennan, a private attorney in the program, says the governor’s proposal would hurt the local economy. “There are 3,000 lawyers that are small-business people in our communities,” he told MetroWest Daily News. “They pay rent for office space; they buy food at restaurants in the community.”
Benedetti also worries about losing experienced criminal defense lawyers whose practices include contract work.
“Where are we going to find 1,000 attorneys?” Benedetti asked the newspaper. “They make the assumption everyone would be paid at the district court salary level, which will not be efficient to attract the level of experience to handle the varied caseload, such as felonies, murder cases, and parental rights cases.”