Insufficient Funding Means a Compromised System...

Florida’s criminal justice system has been especially hard-hit by budget cuts this year. In March 2009, as the Florida legislature proposed a 15% cut in funding through July 2009 to the already budget-strained public defender and state attorney offices across the state, public defenders and prosecutors faced the prospect of furloughs and office-closings in order to salvage their jobs and keep the criminal courts running.1

Florida's legislation not only affects the public defender system, but discourages private attorneys from registering for court appointment.  Chapter 2007-62 "creat[ed] a revamped system of court-appointed counsel to represent indigent defendants primarily in those cases in which the public defender has a conflict."2  Flat rates of $15,000 per capital case were established except in extraordinary circumstances.  A recent survey of Florida lawyers found that "91 percent of respondents list their hourly rate at $150 or higher (up from 83 percent in 2005), 69 percent report they charge $200 or more (up from 60 percent), and 18 percent bill $300 or more an hour, the same as two years ago."3  This amounts to 100 hours or less of attorney time in a capital case – an amount that barely covers the in court time of an attorney during both phases of a capital case. 

In extraordinary cases, qualified death counsel may bill in excess of the statutory cap at a rate of $100 per hour – a rate substantially lower than private rates.4  Even then, interim billing is only by order of the court, and attorneys may receive no funds until a case is completed – which may be a year or more.  Because of these disincentives to indigent defense by private attorneys and the scarcity of qualified counsel in complex crimes, the courts have even attempted involuntary appointment of private attorneys.5

1 Todd Ruger, Furloughs May Clog Courts, Herald Tribune, March 30, 2009, at A1, available athttp://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20090330/ARTICLE/903301055.

2 See Crist v. Fla. Ass'n of Criminal Def. Lawyers, Inc., 978 So. 2d 134, 137 (Fla. 2008).

3 See  Gregory Hagopian v. Justice Administrative Commission, Case No. 2D08-5077 decided August 12, 2009 .p. 6. N. 3. (citing Mark D. Killian, Lawyers' Income is Flat as Firms Brace for Lean Times, Fla. B. News, Feb. 1, 2009, at 8).

4 See Justice Administrative Commission v. Terence M. Lenamon, Case No. 2D09-1685, 2nd DCA October 16, 2009).

5 See Hagopian.