Tag Archives: indigent

Increased funding for legal representation of poor deemed DOA

The chairman of a state task force created in the wake of a failed effort to convince legislators to shell out more money for attorneys protecting the legal rights of the poor has already labeled as “dead on arrival” any future bid for funding, reports the News Sentinel.

“I mention this only to help you understand that there is no chance — no chance — that the General Assembly will agree to appropriate more money to fund the current system,” retired Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William Koch wrote in a letter obtained by the News Sentinel. “Thus, any proposal to increase the current appropriation for the purpose of increasing the hourly rate paid to private attorneys appointed to represent indigent criminal defendants is and will continue to be dead on arrival.”

The letter prompted its recipient, attorney Christopher Seaton, on Friday to call a “listening tour” by the state Indigent Representation Task Force “a sham.”

Koch, now dean of the Nashville School of Law, readily admitted his assessment in an interview after a Friday stop of the task force at the University of Tennessee College of Law, but he countered the task force is no sham.

“The Legislature is not going to pay money for the same old thing,” Koch said. “We haven’t, in the last 30 years, looked at (the process of providing legal services for the poor) holistically.”

Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Sharon Lee agreed.

“I think we are looking at the overall system,” Lee said. “I personally think the rates should be increased but … that’s a Band-Aid. We need to look at the overall system. How can we more efficiently and effectively provide this service?”

Tennessee’s pay for private attorneys to represent poor people accused of crimes — $40 an hour for out-of-court work and $50 in-court with caps ranging from $500 to $5,000 — is the lowest in the nation except Wisconsin. That state doesn’t impose caps, though. Even expert witnesses garner more hourly pay than do court-appointed lawyers. The rates haven’t been raised in more than two decades.

The Tennessee Bar Association has pushed in recent years for a boost, but the Legislature has spurned it while, at the same time, creating new criminal laws and increasing penalties for current laws. As speaker after speaker at Friday’s packed meeting and Koch himself noted, most legislators view poverty-stricken defendants as criminals, so boosting pay rates for their attorneys is a tough, if not impossible, sale.

Supreme ‘task force’ tours to hear about poor legal representation

A “task force” set up by the Tennessee Supreme Court — visits to Knoxville and Johnson City this week after stops in West Tennessee last week — as part of a “listening tour” to hear complaints from lawyers and others about the state’s system for providing legal representation to the poor.

The Indigent Representation Task Force, chaired by former state Supreme Court Justice William Koch, now dean of the Nashville School of Law, is widely seen as a prelude to the court asking the Legislature in 2017 for an increase in funding for the system. The group was established in October after the 2015 legislative session spurned an attempt — led by the Tennessee Bar Association — to increase fees paid attorneys appointed to represent the indigent in criminal cases.

The current rates, unchanged since 1994, provide for lawyers being paid $40 an hour for out-of-court work and $50 an hour for in-court work. There’s also a cap on the total amount that can be paid in a case, which varies depending on the type of crime involved but generally set at $1,000 in most felony cases. The ceiling ranges from $500 in some categories, including those involving juvenile defendants, to $5,000 when the defendant is charged with first-degree murder.
Continue reading

Judge voids lower court’s forced fee practice

A Campbell County judge this week struck down a lower court judge’s practice of forcing poor people whose charges were dropped to pay for legal services they did not use, reports the News Sentinel.

In the first appeal of General Sessions Judge Amanda Sammons’ controversial practice, Criminal Court Judge Shayne Sexton this week ordered the refund of a $200 fee Justin Lee Linkes was forced to pay for a public defender he did not use.

Sammons ordered Linkes in November to pay an administrative fee for a court-appointed attorney before she would dismiss charges against him. Clinton attorney Jeff Coller said Tuesday that Linkes never used the services of the 8th Judicial District Public Defender’s Office, instead hiring him.

Coller, in turn, won dismissal of the aggravated burglary and domestic violence charges Linkes faced. But Sammons refused to formally drop the case until Linkes paid the fee.

Linkes paid the fee and then appealed to Sexton, who ruled Monday that Sammons was wrong.

…In at least four cases reviewed by the News Sentinel in December, Sammons refused to dismiss misdemeanor charges against defendants — even when wrongfully accused — who qualified because of poverty for court-appointed attorneys but whose families hired private attorneys instead.

She has continued the practice since then, refusing to dismiss cases even when prosecutors agree the defendant was wrongfully accused, court records show.

Supremes form task force on indigent defense

News release from Administrative Office of the Courts
Knoxville, Tenn. – The Tennessee Supreme Court has an aggressive agenda for the next year with the goals of improving the service the judiciary provides to attorneys and adapting to better meet the needs of litigants.

Chief Justice Sharon Lee outlined plans for the next year while speaking at the Knoxville Bar Association’s Supreme Court Dinner, an annual event that honors the Court and the justices’ work.

Chief Justice Lee highlighted one of the judiciary’s newest efforts – creation of a court dedicated to handling business disputes. The Business Court launched in May in Davidson County and is open to cases from across the state that meet certain criteria. Lee emphasized that through the use of technology and better scheduling, the court has already begun to see results through an efficient process that meets the needs of everyone involved.

“It has been very well received by the bench, bar, and the business community,” she said.

E-filing is just one of the tools on the horizon for the Business Court and the Supreme Court plans to also implement e-filing in the appellate courts. That will involve revising Supreme Court Rule 46, which has already been put out for public comment. There is also at least one statute pertaining to court costs that would need to be updated. The goal is to have appellate e-filing in place by the fall of next year.

Indigent representation is another area the judiciary will focus on over the next year. The State of Tennessee spends more than $36 million serving citizens and children who are constitutionally guaranteed representation. However, Lee pointed out that Tennessee lawyers performing this work are among the lowest paid in the country.

“We need to build a better mousetrap. We need a better way of doing things. We can’t keep doing the same thing and hoping for a different result,” Chief Justice Lee said.

She announced the formation of a task force that will study the overall system to determine how the state can deliver the right to counsel in a more efficient manner and seek out innovative concepts from other jurisdictions and determine how they could be implemented in Tennessee.

Chief Justice Lee also lauded the Access to Justice program, which continues to be the number one strategic initiative of the Court and is recognized nationally for its success. Through the support that the Court’s Access to Justice Commission provides to programs throughout the state, attorneys are reporting more pro bono hours, while 2,300 people received assistance through OnlineTNJustice.org.
Another major initiative is a study of the time it takes for cases to work their way through the judicial process.

“People lose faith in a judicial system that takes too long to resolve cases,” Lee said.

Lee has tapped a group of trial court judges to study the issue and propose appropriate time standards to the Supreme Court for adoption. These standards will provide guidance to trial judges as to how long it should take to resolve cases.

Audit finds problem in keeping guns from those with mental health issues

An audit of the Administrative Office of the Courts finds several shortcomings in operation of the state’s court system, including failure to “fully comply with state statutes designed to keep firearms out of the hands of individuals with mental health issues.”

As Richard Locker notes, the audit recommends that the AOC and county clerks take steps to remedy the problem and keep better track of records on those with reported mental health problems, who cannot legally buy guns.

Tennessee law requires that court clerks submit reports to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database, within three business days, whenever a court of law commits an individual to a mental institution or adjudicates him or her as a “mental defective,” whose definition in state law includes a determination that the person is a danger to themselves or to others.

The audit says gun dealers and the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security must check the NICS database before making eligibility determinations involving firearms. “Therefore, without a complete and accurate database, individuals with mental health issues may still be able to obtain a firearm from a gun dealer” or a carry permit from the state.”

The AOC concurred with the findings and said the problem is “partly due to a funding issue.” It said that in the short term, it will devote the resources necessary to more accurately track the submission of mental health reports. For the long term, it will seek federal grants to improve the process or ask for more state funding.

Other audit findings:

-There has been inconsistency in applying the rules and laws involving Tennessee’s indigent defense system for providing legal counsel to the poor, “increasing the risk of unequal application of the law.”

-Because the AOC was “unable to develop appropriate civil and criminal caseload data collection procedures” for General Sessions Courts, “court clerks made incomplete and inaccurate submissions… in violation of state statute.”

-The Appellate Court Clerk’s office in Nashville has not “appropriately segregated duties: for dealing with cash receipts.

There’s also a list of “observations” – one being that the Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments “did not fully document potential conflicts of interest disclosed by commission members.”

After Failing to Get Photo ID, Woman Votes Without One

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A woman who couldn’t obtain photo identification and didn’t think she’d be able to vote was allowed to through a rarely used exemption in Tennessee’s new voter ID law.
The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/Shkz4U ) reported 56-year-old Cora Beach voted Thursday by signing an affidavit that she is “indigent and unable to obtain proof of identification without paying a fee.”
In doing so, Beach was able to take advantage of a clause that exempts voters who claim religious objections to being photographed or to the indigent.
Beach visited driver vehicle centers in Davidson County three times recently, only to have her application to acquire a photo ID turned down. She lacked marriage licenses, including one from Ohio, to allow officials to trace her birth name of Cora Jones to her current name.

Sharing Some TN Opinions

GOP Self-Destruction?
The Republican party, suggests Frank Cagle, is on a pattern of self-destruction in the long term.
So when the Republicans have finally achieved their lemming-like goals and have convinced blacks, Hispanics, gays, young people, the elderly and the middle class that their party doesn’t represent them, who will be left?
There aren’t that many Wall Street brokers and bankers.
For now, many of the traditional Republican voters are still committed to the party. Mostly because the Democrats are even more feckless, leaderless, and ineffectual. There is also widespread antipathy toward President Obama. That’s enough to perhaps give them a victory in the short run. But how long can they depend on the mantra that the Democrats are worse?

Tax Increase? Forget it
The anti-tax sentiment in the current political world makes any increase unlikely, even if arguably warranted, says Robert Houk.
Officials from the Johnson City and Washington County school systems are exploring the idea of putting a 0.25 percent sales tax referendum on the ballot early next year. They shouldn’t bother. It doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in Hades of passing.
A Poor Plan for Legal Services?
Gail Kerr doesn’t like the recently-proposed plan for hiring law firms to represent the indigent on a low bidder basis.
What they came up with is a proposal that has been widely poo-pooed by attorneys, judges, experts and professional groups. It would set up a bidding system in which attorneys or law firms would get the right to represent the indigent for a flat fee if they are the lowest bidder. All the sudden, in Tennessee, justice would be akin to road contracts or buying computers.
It’s the idea of paying a flat fee per case that makes this so distasteful. What that means is the ambulance-chasing-type lawyers could load up their plate with low-bid cases, collect their payment, and do as little work as possible for their client. Heck, they’re going to get paid the exact same amount if the client cops a plea or goes all the way to a jury trial and through the appeals process. There would be no incentive, other than a strong moral compass, to offer a client the strongest defense possible

‘The Help’ Hits Home in Memphis
Chris Peck says ‘The Help,’ a movie on race, should be of particular interest in Memphis.
The rest of the country has, in part, tuned into “The Help” because it offers a window into Southern culture and convention in the 1960s that many outside the South don’t know very well.
Memphis knows that world.
To live here is to confront issues raised in “The Help” every day. The biting racial divide. Institutionalized inequalities. Warm real-life relationships that manage to span the cultural divide. A genuine caring for others despite economic and generational differences.

Also in Sunday’s CA, Otis Sanford says the movie caused him to reflect on his own childhood in Mississippi.

Knox County Leads State in Spending on Indigent Defense

Jamie Satterfield has taken a long look at the indigent defense fund, through which the state pays for legal services to those facing a criminal charge without money to pay for a lawyer.
There’s a lot of background information, but the focus is on Knox County spending more from the fund than any other county in the state…. and doing so for years.
That is illustrated by this table, which accompanies the article:
A comparison of Tennessee’s most populous counties showing the percentage of the state’s $36.8 million indigent defense fund each used during the last fiscal year and the percentage of the state’s population that resides within each county.
Knox County: 7 percent of the state’s population; 17 percent of money charged the indigent defense fund
Davidson County: 10 percent of the state’s population; 16.6 percent of money charged the indigent defense fund
Hamilton County: 5.4 percent of state’s population; 5.5 percent of money charged the indigent defense fund
Shelby County: 14.6 percent of state’s population; 14.9 percent of money charged the indigent defense fund