Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

Federal Public Defenders Broke

The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has announced that court appointed lawyers, investigators, psychologists and other experts used by the defense will not be paid after June 17, 1992, until the new fiscal year begins on October 1, 1992, because the government "ran out of money" to pay these fees.

As many as 40,000 lawyers and defense experts could be affected by the shortfall. Lawyers in several cities have threatened to quit amid major trials or appeal to higher courts that the lack of timely payments makes such trials fundamentally unfair.

The reason for the shortfall is that officials badly underestimated the amount of money needed to pay court appointed lawyers and Congress refused to appropriate $25 million in emergency aid.

David Lewis, an official with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said: "This tilts the whole system even more toward the prosecutor. The prosecutors are being paid. The FBI people are being paid. And so are the DEA investigators. But the defense lawyer isn't being paid, and he can't retain an investigator or a pathologist or accountant to help out in a complex case."

Major trials have already been delayed in several states. In St. Louis, 6 lawyers appointed to represent 11 defendants in a major drug and racketeering trial refused to proceed with a trial set for July 7. In an appeal to the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals the lawyers said they worked for small firms and could not afford to work for months without pay for themselves and their staffs. The Court of Appeals agreed and ordered a delay in the trial while a judge gathers more information on how the lack of funds may hamper the defense. The defense lawyers were especially irate when they learned the government had spent $750,000 for several confidential witnesses in the same case.
Seattle Times , July 16, 1992

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login