Funding boost enables raises for federal defenders, jurors

A nearly $200 million increase in the Fiscal Year 2018 budget is enabling the federal judiciary to increase compensation for jurors and indigent defense attorneys while also performing construction projects at three federal courthouses.

President Donald Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 into law on March 23, allocating $7.1 billion to the federal judiciary for discretionary appropriations. That’s a 2.7 percent increase over FY 2017, the U.S Courts announced on Wednesday.

The budget boost will lead to an increase in daily compensation for federal jurors to $50 per day, the first time juror compensation has been increased since 1990. The current daily juror fee is $40. The increase will take effect May 7.

Indigent defense attorneys also will receive a compensation boost, with the hourly rate for court-appointed private lawyers rising to $140 in non-capital cases. Similarly, compensation for attorneys in capital cases will rise to $188 an hour.

Those rate increases represent cost of living adjustments for capital and non-capital attorneys, plus an additional adjustment for non-capital defenders. The U.S. Courts office said recent surveys showed an increased difficulty in retaining qualified and experienced defenders at the prior rates, which were $8 and $3 less for non-capital and capital attorneys, respectively.

“This is an excellent result that enables the judiciary to fulfill its mission,” U.S. Courts administrative office director James C. Duff said in a statement. “We are especially pleased that Congress recognized the critical public service provided by the citizens who serve on juries as well as the attorneys who represent defendants who can’t afford a lawyer.”

The funding increase also will enable the judiciary to pay for new courthouse construction projects in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Huntsville, Alabama; and Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The Pennsylvania project will receive $137.2 million, the Alabama project will receive $110 million and the Florida project will receive $190 million.

The courts cited security, space and safety issues as the driving forces behind the construction projects. In Huntsville, for example, the courthouse has only one stairwell, creating serious safety issues in the event of an emergency.

The judiciary received similar congressional funding in 2016 that paid for nine courthouse projects and partially funded the Harrisburg project.

“The judiciary greatly appreciates the funding for these critically needed projects,” District Judge Susan R. Bolton, chair of the judiciary’s Space and Facilities Committee, said in a statement. “We’re very pleased that Congress continues to show confidence in the judiciary’s construction program.”

Finally, the funding increase provided one-year extensions for 10 temporary district judgeships in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina and Texas.

The Congressional spending bill also allocated $410 million to the Legal Services Corporation, despite earlier concerns that Trump would cut legal aid funding from the federal budget. The boost to LSC is expected to benefit Indiana Legal Services.

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