February 1, 2006
For years, court appointed attorney's in Virginia have been the lowest paid in the country by far. Now a lawsuit filed today by a D.C. law firm has the general assembly rethinking that practice. They have a class action lawsuit pending against the Virginia General Assembly. They say for years the assembly has neglected the criminal justice system, poorly paying court-appointed attorneys, and sometimes getting shoddy work in return.
Steven Rosenfield has been practicing law in Virginia for 29 years. He says he no longer takes court appointed work because the pay structure is so poor.
"I won't be a part of this system that is broken. I feel like I would be an enabler," he said.
In Virginia, attorneys volunteer for court appointed work. They are paid $112 for misdemeanor cases and $1,186 for felonies. Currently by law, the amount is capped at these rates no matter how many hours they spend on the case.
"In Virginia, lawyers generally subsidize the criminal justice system because their overhead exceeds their hourly rate of pay they end up getting," Rosenfield said.
New legislation is under consideration that will make it arbitrary for the sitting judge to determine the amount paid to the attorney, depending on the case. A fact that might bring Rosenfield back to this line of work.
"With this change, I would probably get back into doing it," he said.
The lawsuit is on hold pending the outcome of proposed legislation. Those bills are in the early stages of review.