Monday, August 19, 2013

Sequestration: Federal Court-Appointed Attorneys Face $15/Hour Cut

    If last week's announcement by the IRS that corporate tax credits were the latest victim of sequestration didn't garner much sympathy, then an even smaller violin might be needed for this week's victim: lawyers.  As of September 1, court-appointed panel attorneys for the federal defender program will be hit with a $15/hour reduction in compensation.  The following announcement appeared Monday on the United States Courts website:
In an emergency move to preserve Federal Defender staffing in FY 2014, the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States has reduced hourly rates for court-appointed panel attorneys by $15 an hour. Payments to panel attorneys for up to four weeks of work done in FY 2014 will be deferred to FY 2015. An Aug. 16 letter described the moves as temporary and undesirable, but said they "are necessary to avoid permanent damage to the federal defender program."
    In the letter explaining the decision, the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference raised concerns that the move could "impact the delivery of justice":
In taking these measures, the Executive Committee shares your view that reducing panel attorney compensation rates, deferring panel attorney payments, and limiting federal defender organization funding to the maintenance of current on-board staff are undesirable, and may impact the delivery of justice, but are necessary to avoid permanent damage to the federal defender program.  Measures of this kind, however, are not sustainable in the long term, and certainly would not be required if the judiciary were receiving an appropriate level of funding in this account.  The Committee nonetheless remains committed to the goal of ensuring that the defender program can operate within its annual appropriations.  With that in mind, we will continue to monitor developments and intend to revisit the matter when, in our opinion, events warrant.
    Currently, the maximum hourly rate in such cases is $125.  The $15/hour cut reduces the maximum back to 2010 levels.  The maximum rate in capital cases is $178/hour.

Note: A version of this article first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

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