South Florida attorneys and Broward County’s chief judge are predicting a crisis in the criminal justice system after July 1, when the pay for representing low-income people accused of capital crimes will be slashed statewide to a maximum of $3,500, says the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. As the burden for paying court-related costs shifts this summer from counties to the state, experts predict that it will be impossible to get lawyers to do the demanding and emotionally draining work of representing poor people who face the death penalty.
Death cases are the most challenging and time-consuming. Even supporters of the death penalty should be concerned, local attorneys said, because the problems will slow down cases and may make them more likely to be reversed on appeal. “I think concerned is too light a word to describe what I feel, I think it borders on the critical,” said Broward Chief Judge Dale Ross. “If we’re limited to $3,500, I can see a crisis looming. He is drafting a letter to the program’s administrators to express concern and press for more realistic rates.
At issue are cases in which courts appoint private attorneys to represent indigent defendants when public defenders have conflicts of interest. On Wednesday, the Broward Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers wrote to Ross expressing grave concerns about the fee cuts. Association presidents Michael Gottlieb and Charlie Kaplan said they have not found a local lawyer willing to take on a case for that amount of money. “That would average out at about $3 per hour for these complex cases,” Gottlieb said. “It’s certainly below minimum wage and any attorney willing to take a case for that would not be qualified to handle it.”