Bar News - October 15, 2014
Court News: Judicial Council Approves New Indigent Defense Rates, Plan
By: Kristen Senz
The New Hampshire Judicial Council recently approved a budget proposal that would increase pay for contract attorneys handling indigent criminal and delinquency defense and voted this summer to support higher compensation rates for assigned counsel.
The proposed Judicial Council budget, which is subject to legislative and governor approval, would increase the per-unit rate for contract attorneys from $275 to $300. The average felony case equals 8.3 units, according to a compensation system developed more than 25 years ago that has not increased since 1995.
Because the Judicial Council does not have the statutory authority to set rates for assigned counsel, who handle indigent defense for major crimes and capital cases, the council has sent a recommendation to the NH Supreme Court rules committee to increase their hourly rate from $60 to $100.
Calling contract attorneys “the unsung heroes of the criminal justice system,” Chris Keating, executive director of the Judicial Council, said the work is, in effect, pro bono.
“The economic incentives are not in favor of pouring countless hours into cases, but I think the contract attorneys do it because they think it’s an important service,” he said.
But unlike under the old system, a newly approved plan for private bar participation in indigent defense delivery requires contract and assigned attorneys to meet specific eligibility criteria and apply to renew or receive contracts with the state, instead of simply requesting renewal each year.
The criteria for contract attorneys require references, liability insurance, NH Bar membership and “a substantial record of trial experience.”
“I think the desire is to have a better system than just me saying, ‘Oh, I know Sally. She’s a great lawyer and does great work, so I’m going to send this case to Sally,’” Keating said. “I think formalizing it just lets everybody know that there is an established, responsible program in place.”
The new plan and full list of criteria are available on the Judicial Council’s website.
Approved Sept. 9, the plan expands on one approved this spring by adding separate panels for assigned counsel handling major crimes, capital cases and juvenile matters. The other two panels are for misdemeanors and felonies, and Supreme Court appeals.
Private attorneys can apply for one or more panels using an application available now on the council’s website. Keating said an application for contracts and contract renewal will be available there soon for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2015.