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Federal Defender Services Program Rates Cut by $15 Per Hour

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

This isn't much of a surprise, yet it is truly unfortunate. For those of you who currently take on court-appointed work in the federal criminal justice system, or are considering doing so, Fourth Circuit Chief Judge William Traxler, who serves as chairman of the U.S. Judicial Conference, has announced a rate cut for the next two years, by $15 an hour, reports the Courthouse News Service.

The letter, addressed to U.S. District Court Judge Catherine Blake, CC'd to the entire Judicial Conference, and posted by CNS, states that "dire fiscal circumstances" have necessitated the cuts. Judge Traxler states in the letter, "Measures of this kind, however, are not sustainable in the long term, and certainly would not be required if the judiciary were receiving an appropriate level of funding in this account."

The federal defenders' service has already seen furloughs and layoffs due to sequestration. These cuts are expected to save $49.8 million of the already-strained budget, according to CNS. The U.S. Courts' website lists the current rates at $125 per hour for non-capital cases and up to $178 per hour for capital cases.

Traxler's letter states that the emergency cuts, to $110 and up to $163 respectively, will begin on September 1, 2013 and will last until September 30, 2014. Up to four weeks of attorneys' fees, payable in fiscal year 2014, will also be deferred until 2015 in order to ease the burden on the federal defenders' system.

It's hard to gauge how much the cuts will affect attorneys' willingness to take federal court-appointed criminal work. Though no one takes court-appointed work to become rich, the already low rates (which include overhead, and are capped per case, unless a judge orders otherwise) might look even less appealing when cut further and deferred into the following fiscal year.

Then again, this isn't exactly a thriving industry with a surplus of work. Desperation will breed contentment, or at least something close to it.

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