A blog of the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section

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To all court appointed counsel:

President Judge Shelia Woods-Skipper has invited four attorneys (the four of us are listed below) to sit on a committee with a number of judges to study and recommend changes in the guaranteed fee system for the payment of court appointed attorneys. We know there are have been many problems with the system in the last number of years, not the least of which is that we haven’t received a raise in our fees since the 1990s (with the exception of capital homicide cases).

The judges asked that the four of us form a subcommittee to work on revisions to the system, and to that end we are writing to you to ask for any suggestions on how to improve the system from how it stands now. During our first large committee meeting with the judges it was clear that all agree that a raise is in order, it is just a matter of how much to increase the fees, and how certain legal work in court should be billed and paid. As the city is now responsible for paying all court appointed attorneys for their services, city input is of course vital.

On our committee representing the city is Judge Benjamin Lerner in his new role as Deputy Managing Director for Criminal Justice for the City of Philadelphia and his Director of Policy, Planning and Administration, Julie Wertheimer. It would seem that at this time the city is open to revamping the guaranteed fee system and increasing the rate of pay. This is very good news of course.

Our focus will be on a number of areas:

1. What should the rates be for different court events? (i.e. same prep-rate for smart room plea vs. trial room plea? A different prep rate for majors cases vs. felony waiver type cases?)

2. What work in court is compensable and what is not? (i.e. currently not being compensated for litigating motions to suppress and other pretrial motions when we should be.)

3. A focus on actual compensation to reflect the reality of the legal work we do on a case.

4. Insuring whatever new rates are adopted are automatically adjusted for inflation at regular intervals going forward.

The examples we give are of course only the tip of the iceberg. We are requesting your help to make this a fairer and better system that benefits all, including our clients. To that end please send us your input and ideas and rate suggestions. Please don’t use this opportunity to go on a tirade about how bad things are, we all know it, believe me. We need good ideas and justifications for those ideas to make these improvements and increases work, and have them seen as necessary and reasonable.

In addition please note the judges in Family Court have set up their own sub-committee to study the changes that should be made to the fee structures in Family Court and any questions with the delinquency and dependency court appointed guaranteed fee system representation should be directed to them. Please respond to phillycourtappointments@gmail.com by Friday, September 16, 2016, with your input so that we can convey your ideas and concerns at our next committee meeting. Thank you in advance for your input.

Sincerely,

James Berardinelli

Kathryn Coviello-Cacciamani

David Rudenstein

David Walker

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