The fees Virginia pays court-appointed lawyers for defending the poor have been among the nation’s lowest for at least three decades. The venue for seeking higher fees may shift from the state Capitol to a federal courtroom, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Even some prosecutors say the system needs fixing. “I’m concerned about the pay,” said William Davenport, Chesterfield County’s commonwealth’s attorney for 18 years. “If you look across the United States and we’re down there around the 49th or 50th, I think we ought to try to do something about that.”
The high-profile Washington, D.C., law firm of Covington & Burling and may file a civil-rights suit aimed at forcing the state to pay for better representation for the poor. Similar suits elsewhere contend that unless minimum conditions are met, such as adequate compensation and reasonable caseloads, the quality of legal representation provided by the state falls below the constitutional standard for effective assistance of counsel required by the 6th Amendment, said Richard Bonnie, a University of Virginia law school professor. Successful suits have been filed in Connecticut and Pittsburgh, and a Montana case is on hold pending possible action by the legislature.