Supreme Court approves minimum fee schedule for state, appointed public defenders

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The Indiana Supreme Court has approved a proposed schedule of minimum fees for the state’s public defenders appointed in trial and appellate cases.

In a July 29 order, the high court announced its approval of the state public defender’s proposed minimum fee schedule, which aligns with changes directed by the Indiana Public Defender Commission to its Standards for Indigent Defense Services in Non-Capital Cases.

“Since criminal cases vary greatly in the time and labor required, depending upon complexity of evidence, legal issues, and other matters, a flat fee system is not workable,” according to the order, which was signed by Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush. “In both instances, reasonable fees shall be determined on the basis of the hours required to perform the service. Further, the appointing court and the Office of the State Public Defender shall require a bill which clearly states the services performed, the expenses incurred, and the reasons for same.”

The commission standards will be made effective Jan. 1, 2023, for counties participating in its reimbursement program, the order says.

Also beginning on that date, all in-court and out-of-court work in noncapital cases will be compensated at the hourly rate of at least 75% of the capital rate required under Indiana Criminal Rule 24(C)(1), rounded up or down to the nearest $10 per hour. That includes client consultation, legal research, witness interviewing, legal drafting and hearings, with supporting documentation as to time spent, according to the order.

The effective date of any increases will tier with the capital rate increases, and delays that are not due to appointed counsel may also be billed.

For capital cases, all attorney time, in-court or out-of-court, will be billed at the rate established biennially by the chief administrative officer of the Indiana Supreme Court for cases filed or remanded after appeal on or after the first day of each odd year.

“Post-conviction relief actions are initiated when post-conviction counsel files an appearance, notice of intent to petition for post-conviction relief or request to extend stay of execution under Criminal Rule 24(H). A successive petition is initiated when the Supreme Court authorizes its filing under Indiana Post-Conviction Rule 1(12),” the order says.

Under the order, the use of an automobile, lodging and meals when traveling for a client’s business in a capital or noncapital case will be compensated at the rates established by the Indiana Department of Administration and approved by the Indiana State Budget Agency. An attorney’s salary for travel time is compensable, and costs and expenses incurred on the client’s behalf will be reimbursed where those costs were reasonably necessary for representation of the client.

Additionally, charges for preauthorized experts, accountants, investigators, medical doctors and similar items will be borne by the county in cases where public defense counsel has been assigned at the court’s requests, and by the state public defender where the latter has appointed outside counsel.

Another study, “Indiana Public Defense Overhead Costs,” conducted by the Public Defender Commission focused on attorneys statewide who do public defense work in commission counties. That study revealed public defenders get roughly $5.16 an hour after overhead costs.

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