Paying to Work

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County government was previously responsible for paying private lawyers the compensation for their work on court-appointed cases. Since the state is taking over the cost, a new pay scale decreased the amount paid to attorneys.

When the state picks up the tab, it's actually the defendants who will pay. They'll pay in time because private attorneys say they're going to stop taking cases appointed by the court for defendants who can't afford a lawyer.

Richard Ogburn, a private attorney in Bay County, has already removed himself from the list to serve these cases.

"Starting July first, going back to 1984 pay levels and it is virtually impossible to maintain an office on those levels of pay," says Richard.

Actually, Ogburn says those being paid $75 an hour now, which is about half the normal rate, will be looking at a compensation at about $25 to $30 an hour with a maximum cap.

Peggy Roell deals with all the attorneys at the Juvenile Justice Courthouse, and too many have asked to be removed from the court appointed list.

"There was 13 active attorneys that were in private practice that were acting as court appointed attorneys. Now we're down to two," says Peggy.

Ogburn says the attorneys will be ok, it's the defendants who will hurt the most.

"The children who now linger in the foster care system, too long as it is, their parents will not be represented or cases where they are represented in a timely fashion," says Ogburn.

Anyone facing a death penalty case is also affected because the cap of compensation adds up to $3,500, whether the case last 10 days or 10 years.

Criminal attorney Chris Patterson says the compensation doesn't even come close to paying for any expenses. He says it's unfair to those seeking a fair trial because now they'll pay the price.

"So we've got a scenario where death penalty cases above everything else are not being compensated under this new law and something's got to change because that's just not tolerable," says Chris.

Not tolerable, but could be the case come July 1.