Thursday, September 12, 2013

Governor and Attorney General Should Practice What They Preach

Clarence Gideon
This year, we celebrated the 50th Anniversary of Gideon v. Wainwright and the actual enforcement of the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.  Clarence Gideon was charged with felony grand larceny for allegedly stealing some cigarettes and cash from a closed pool hall.  He requested counsel, was denied, convicted, and sentenced to five years imprisonment.  

He appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court on his own without an attorney and March 18, 1963, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled he was entitled to counsel before he could be convicted.  On retrial, he was acquitted. 

Fifty years after Gideon, here is what the Commonwealth of Virginia pays the attorneys for people who are actually charged with crimes:
  • $120 - Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Criminal Case
  • $120 - Adult Misdemeanor in General District Court
  • $1,235 - Felony Punishable by 20+ Years
  • $445 - All other Felonies
  • $158 - Adult Misdemeanor in Circuit Court
Don't believe me?  Click on this link for the chart.  There are waivers for these fees, but they must be justified and approved by the Courts.  Plus, the fund for the waivers runs out of money each budget cycle.

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported that Governor McDonnell and his staff have now run up $144,000 in legal bills being defended by Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott at up to $250/hour and that taxpayers have incurred $100,000 and counting for other state employees are being defended by Baker & McKenzie at up to $495/hour.  No one has been charged with anything - yet. 

Setting aside the issue of why these services were not bid out to the public like most other taxpayer funded contracts, I'm not clear why the Governor and his staff get taxpayer funded representation from gold-plated law firms when no one has even been charged with a crime or is even facing jail time while counsel for ordinary indigent Virginians' facing actual long prison terms with actual filed charges get about $10/hour.

As the birthplace of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Bill of Rights, we should be ashamed.  In addition, the Governor - a former prosecutor - and the Attorney General know better. If they believe that Virginia's system meets constitutional muster, they should step up to the plate and practice what they preach. 

The Commonwealth does not fund criminal lawyers until charges are filed and does not pay $250 or $495/hour.  They should pick up the tab.

1 comment:

  1. In 2004, this issue was raised when the Post published that VA paid it's lawyers least out of all 50 states? VA's response was to create the Indigent Defense Commission, to require more training. Somehow that extra burden on court appointed attorneys never translated into raising the rates. Do you believe the Indigent Defense Commission has any benefit for attorneys or the public?