Lawyer Pay

Panel attorneys who represent children, indigent adults in New York courts flee low pay

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Panel attorneys who represent children and indigent adults in New York family and criminal courts haven’t had a fee hike in almost two decades.

The last fee increase was in 2004, when hourly rates for family court matters were set at $75 per hour. Lawyers who represent defendants accused of felonies when public defenders have a conflict make the same amount of money. In misdemeanor cases, the pay is $60 per hour.

The New York Times and the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle have coverage.

In South Dakota, by way of contrast, panel attorneys earn $101 per hour.

Many lawyers are no longer taking assigned counsel cases as a result of the low rates, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Panel attorneys who continue to take cases “end up with burgeoning and burdensome caseloads, making quality representation difficult,” the newspaper reports.

In New York’s family courts, panel attorneys “have been departing the system by the dozens over the past decade,” according to the New York Times.

In Manhattan, New York City, the number of panel attorneys available take on new cases in family court has decreased over six years from 70 to 39. In the Bronx, New York City, the number decreased from 80 to 48.

Several New York-based bar associations are seeking higher rates for panel attorneys and the removal of caps on the number of hours that can be billed for cases. Their lawsuit argues that the low rates paid to assigned counsel violate the constitutional rights of children and indigent adults for effective representation, according to prior coverage by the New York Law Journal.

Last month, a lawyer for the groups argued their case before Judge Lisa Headley.

Lawyers for the city and state defendants say courts don’t have the power to raise the rates. But the issue is being addressed, as lawmakers and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul are close to a deal to raise fees, a lawyer for the state told Headley.

But the lawyer representing the bar groups, Michael Dell of New York City, said the judge shouldn’t wait for a deal, according to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.

The state’s “whole defense boils down to ‘trust me,’” Dell said.

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