Bidding for public defense work

September 1, 2011
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The Tennessee Supreme Court is considering whether to enter into fixed-fee contracts with attorneys in particular types of cases to help reduce costs. The Tennessean recently reported on the proposed changes to indigent defense.

There’s an amendment out there that would allow the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts to seek bids and award contracts for contempt proceedings in nonpayment of child support cases and hearings on whether to involuntary commit someone to a mental-health institution.

The proposal is an attempt to save money. Like a lot of states, more people need appointed counsel and states are looking at ways to cut costs where they can.

Critics argue that using fixed or flat fees for cases would encourage attorneys to put in as little work as possible.  

Wisconsin has a system in place where the public defense of misdemeanors is covered by flat rates. That state’s public defender office recently sent out request for proposals this year for flat rate contracting, continuing the contracts through 2013. Depending on what county lawyers practice in, they could get anywhere from $235 to $413 a case.

According to the Indiana Public Defender Commission’s Standards for Indigent Defense Services in Non-Capital Cases, last amended Dec. 10, 2008, counsel appointed on a case-by-case basis “shall be compensated for time actually expended at the hourly rate of not less than $60.00.”

What do you think about using flat fees for public defense?

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