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Attorneys for indigent federal defendants face pay cut

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A $15 hourly pay cut is coming for lawyers in private practice who represent indigent defendants in federal criminal cases.

The looming cut, effective Sept. 1, will lower the hourly rate for so-called “panel attorneys” in most cases from $125 per hour to $110 per hour, said Karen Redmond, a spokeswoman for the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. For lawyers working on behalf of defendants facing the death penalty, the change will take their hourly compensation from $178 to $163.

The reductions, signaled in a letter released today from William Traxler, chairman of the executive committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, are intended to spare federal defender organizations from having to resort to furloughs or reductions-in-force in fiscal 2014, said Redmond, who did not have a dollar figure on how much could be saved through lower fees. While the reductions are currently scheduled to stay in effect through September 2014, that may change “if we get sufficient funding,” she said.

Like other federal agencies, the court system could be subject to a fiscal 2014 continuing resolution that freezes its budget at this year’s  post-sequester level starting in October. In a letter to congressional leaders last week, 87 federal judges pleaded for funding above that threshold.

Also worried is the American Bar Association. “Current funding cuts due to sequestration are already threatening access to justice for so many,” ABA President James Silkenat said in a statement to FedLine. If those reductions continue, he added, the judicial conference will have to implement “dire cutbacks” across federal court operations that “among other things, will jeopardize the Sixth Amendment rights to effective counsel and a speedy trial for low-income defendants.”

 

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