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July 2, 2012

"Lawyer: More $ for capital cases; Judge: No way"

The title of this post is the headline of this notable local article discussing on-going debates in Ohio concerning ensuring adequate funding for death penalty defense. Here is how the piece gets started:

If you were on trial literally for your life, would $16,760 be enough to get the legal representation you deserve?  That was the average cost to provide a taxpayer-paid defense for capital murder cases in Hamilton County in the last fiscal year, an Ohio Public Defender report shows.

That amount is shameful when someone’s execution is contemplated, Cincinnati civil rights attorney Bob Newman said, so he’s on a crusade to raise it.  But he’s getting resistance from at least one long-time Hamilton County judge who insists the current system is fine.

Newman asked five Hamilton County judges to appoint him to death penalty cases -- for free. He’s not trying to win an acquittal or defeat a death sentence. Newman wants to be appointed only so he can fight for more money to defend capital cases.

In Hamilton County, lawyers appointed to represent someone in a death-penalty case who can’t afford a lawyer are paid $45 per hour with a theoretical cap of $22,500 per case. All of that is taxpayer money. Often, though, judges approve funding above that cap.  Even when that happens, though, Newman insists that’s not enough to do the job correctly when a lawyer can invest 2,000 hours on capital cases.

“The system is not working well because $45 per hour translates into a lawyer who has two competing obligations -- his obligation to represent his client and his obligation to survive and provide for his family,” Newman said.

Taxpayers already are sacrificing to pay for those publicly appointed lawyers, and the system works, Common Pleas Court Judge Norbert Nadel countered.  “I have found court-appointed attorneys representing indigent defendants in capital murder cases to be of the highest caliber” and work “in an extremely competent, high quality and zealous manner,” Nadel wrote in rejecting Newman’s request to be appointed to a death-penalty case pending before him.

Tell that to someone facing a trip to death row, who may get a sub-par attorney simply because of cost, Newman said. “In some jurisdictions in Ohio, it is literally lawyers at the bottom of the barrel who are appointed. Or a brand new lawyer who is seeking some experience or doing a judge a favor,” Newman said.

Hamilton County pays well compared to some rural Ohio counties but more money is needed, said Ohio Public Defender Tim Young.  While Hamilton County’s Public Defender caps death-penalty cases at $22,500 per defense attorney, Champaign County’s cap is $5,000 and Knox County’s is $6,000.  Hamilton County’s cap hasn’t increased in eight years, Young added. “Even in this economy, who hasn’t received a raise in eight years?” Young asked.

Dennis Will, the Lorain County Prosecutor and head of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, supports Young.  Defense lawyers in capital cases need to be paid fairly “on a scale with what private individuals can afford,” Will said.

Money is important to provide the best defense in a life-and-death case, defense attorney Norm Aubin said.  “It’s a lot of money, but it’s not for a capital case,” Aubin said of the $22,500 cap per attorney on death-penalty cases.  “If it were a private (attorney on the) case, it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

July 2, 2012 at 06:51 AM | Permalink


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Doug, do you think it is true that some counties cap payments to defense counsel in Ohio at five or six thousand dollars? Is there additional money coming from the state?


Posted by: bruce cunningham | Jul 2, 2012 10:46:38 AM

Wow! Even Alabama hasn't had a cap in over 10 years.

Posted by: Ala JD | Jul 2, 2012 10:59:17 AM

I've done criminal defense work in a county in Michigan. The rate is fixed, for felonies and misdemeanors, at $52/hr., with no cap. Though briefly raised to $75/hr. for felonies for a few months, it reverted to the $52/hr. figure. That rate was first set in January of 1991. When I started doing indigent defense work in 1977, the rate was $35/hr. The 2012 value of the $52/hr. in 1991 dollars is less than the $35/hr. figure I started at.

Posted by: Greg Jones | Jul 2, 2012 11:06:13 AM

Hell, you can't even find a good plumber or electrician at $45/hr. and those aren't usually considered life and death situations. I guess unless you hire a cheap one and the work perfomed ends up burning your house down. Guess that definitely shows where the so called justice system's priorities are.

Posted by: Tradesman | Jul 2, 2012 1:39:39 PM

What a conundrum! Do poor people commit more murders? Do middle income people have the money for the best defense? The answer seems to be no, soooooooo back to the main problem in the world as I see it. The rich get away with murder while the poor are convicted whether they 'did it' or not.

Posted by: mary | Jul 2, 2012 2:57:19 PM

Appointed defense counsel in these capital cases should receive at least as much compensation as the prosecutors. That calculation should include all the benefits prosecutors receive, courtesy of the taxpayers.

Why not at least try to have an even playing field?

The government convicts and imprisons way too many innocent people.

Posted by: Calif. Capital Defense Counsel | Jul 2, 2012 5:28:13 PM

It seems that many dollar amounts in the justice system are skewed in ways that hurt defendants. I know I paid a lot more than the dollar figure quoted in this case for my defense in a three week Federal white collar trial (and I'm still paying)--and my life was not on the line.
Also, for white collar defendants, the Feds can swoop in and tie up virtually all of your assets with just a showing of "probable cause"--and it's completely ex parte for them. Precedent in the law shows that your right to an attorney as a criminal defendant does NOT trump the 6th Amendment right to counsel of your choice, and on top of that, money laundering statutes allow that if ANY "tainted funds" got mixed in with your legitimate funds, all of it can be held for forfeiture. The bar is Very high to get a hearing to MAYBE get your funds released. In the meantime, you are obviously "well represented" by a court appointed attorney, right?

Posted by: folly | Jul 2, 2012 6:09:07 PM

well folly there is a solution. Start treating them like the THIEF caught in the ACT that they are and KILL THEM!

anyway you can.

Pretty soon DA's who know using such tacticts result in DEATH they will quit!

Posted by: rodsmith | Jul 3, 2012 10:57:01 AM

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