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Panel Attorneys Rejoice: Pay Rates Restored in Federal Courts

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. on March 04, 2014 2:58 PM

Panel attorneys defending clients in federal criminal cases will have their pay rates restored beginning on March 1, 2014.

The "raise" applies to all districts that use panel attorneys, including the Tenth Circuit. Now hourly compensation for panel attorneys that represent non-capital cases will receive $126 an hour, while capital representations will receive $180 an hour, according to the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.

The pay increase was authorized by the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States on February 10.

'Mo Money, 'Mo Representation

Last August, the Executive Committee reduced the rates for court-appointed panel attorneys by $15 per hour, according to the Colorado District Court. Although it was only a one percent decrease in pay rate, if an attorney worked full-time as a panel attorney, she would've taken a $30,000 pay cut before taxes. When you're not making BigLaw money, that $30K definitely hurts.

The Executive Committee cut funding in an "emergency" move last year in order to avoid permanent damage to the federal defender program. However, the good news is that based on the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014, the federal government has provided a $316 million increase in the discretionary funding for the Judiciary. This means that all panel attorneys' pay rates will be restored and they'll be paid for all services provided in the 2014 fiscal year. If the increase wasn't given, the payments might've been deferred to 2015. Yikes.

Panel Attorneys v. Public Defenders

Under the Criminal Justice Act, a federal system was established for appointing and compensating lawyers to represent indigent defendants in federal criminal cases. The Act established federal public defender and community defender organizations as well as panel attorneys. What's different about panel attorneys is that they're private lawyers who accept CJA assignments. In the four districts that don't have a federal public defender organization, panel attorneys take all the assigned cases, according to the U.S. Courts.

With the restored pay rate, it's nice to see that federal panel attorneys are getting a little bit more of the recognition, not to mention compensation, they deserve.

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