The last thing I wanted to do this weekend is to break my July respite from
commentary in order to focus on a group of lawyers who are again making
the profession look bad. But, this is too important and urgent to let slide:
The majority of lawyers taking assigned counsel criminal cases to represent
the indigent in Massachusetts — called “bar advocates” — are poised to
continue their illegal and unethical joint boycott of new cases, in order
to put more pressure on State Government to increase their fees. That’s
despite the fact that each House of the Mass. Legislature (under the gun
for the third summer in a row from coordinated statewide refusals to take
new cases) passed bills this week that would raise fees significantly —
amounting to an 81% increase in the past two years.
See SouthCoastToday article (July 23, 2005); AP/Boston Herald
Click to see the full story, with extensive discusion and excerpts
from many prior posts on this topic. I hope you’ll take a look and — especially
if you live in Massachusetts or care about the image of the legal profession —
take a public stand.
p.s. I’ve just figured out why they’re called “bar advocates”
rather than just assigned counsel — their #1 priority seems
to be advocating for the bar, for themselves.
afterthought (July 25, 2005): At MyShingle you can read Carolyn Elefant’s
Court Appointed Work Is Not Supposed To Be A Full Time Job! (July 23, 2005),
responding to bar advocate opposition to a cap of 1400 hours per year per assigned
update (July 26, 2005): MACAA activist Deborah Sirotkin Butler writes to the Cape Cod Times
that the Massachusetts House “hid pay cuts and punitive systemic changes in a fake raise
slammed down by a cap. The actions of the House of representative were truly those of a
wolf in sheep’s clothing.” (Letter to the Editor, July 23, 2005) She’s talking about capping
total bar advocate hours at 1400 per year and hiring public defenders to handle some of the district
court cases (moving Massachusetts toward a more balanced indigent defense system, which would
comport with national standards). See will MACAA react like a guild to indigent defense report?
p.s. (3 PM July 26, 2005): According to the Overworked Counties Chart posted at the
Bristol County bar advocate website, the average billed by each Bar Advocate in FY2004
was $33,147. In the 6 counties where it’s hardest to find bar advocates and panel members
have the highest workloads, the average dollar amount billed by each bar advocate in
FY2004 was $37,694. Under the bills passed by both houses of the Legislature, a limit
of 1400 hours per year would yield $70,000 for the lowest level of cases; $84,000 for major
felonies; and $140,000 for murder cases.
update (July 27, 2005): A Mass. high court justice refuses to order the Legislature
to raise assigned counsel fees. See “Lawyers granted time on pay dispute,”
by Dan Ring, Springfield Republican (July 27, 2005). Excerpt:
“An associate justice on the state’s highest court yesterday said
the state Legislature should receive more time to approve higher
hourly pay for private lawyers for the poor and resolve a crisis that
started last year in Hampden County.
“During a conference on a lawsuit that seeks increased hourly pay
for the court-appointed lawyers, Associate Justice John M. Greaney
also said it was unlikely the Supreme Judicial Court would order
lawmakers to appropriate money to settle the dispute since legislators
are making progress.”
update (July 29, 2005): Yesterday, the Massachusetts legislature passed and sent
to the Governor an assigned counsel bill that followed closely the House version
of assigned counsel fee reform. “Legislature OKs raises for criminal defenders,
Daily News Tribune, by Emelie Rutherford, July 29, 2005). The bill, which was signed
into law today by Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey (Gov. Mitt, Romney is on vacation) will:
raise fees retroactive to July 1 from $37.50 to $61.50 per hour to between
$50 and $100 per hour, with a cap of 1400 hours (The cap would apply
only to new cases accepted after 1,400 hours are reached.)
authorize hiring of 10 new on-staff public defenders (to handle criminal
matters) for each of the state’s district
require improved procedures for confirming that defendants are indigent
and the formation of a commission to study decriminalizing some acts.
In a Boston Herald article, John Salsberg, co-chairman of Suffolk Lawyers For Justice
Inc., is quoted:
“Finally, the hard work of court-appointed attorneys is being recognized. It is
unfortunate that it took a crisis in the court system to get to this point.”
Salsberg’s organization has been at the forefront of the concerted bar advocate boycotts —
thus creating the judicial crisis he decries. (prior post)
“tinyredcheck” Meanwhile, at their Yahoo! ListServe, assigned counsel are congratulating themselves for having the “courage” to refuse new cases, and especially thanking the [first concerted boycotters]
in the “western part of the state for setting the tone and example for so much longer than any”.
They’re also complaining that MACAA isn’t getting enough credit.
I would like to congratulate the assigned counsel who took my advice to heart two years ago and
concentrated their efforts on getting legislative, judicial and bar association support. However,
because the threat and reality of more boycotting were never rejected by the bar advocate leaders,
I am reluctant to praise their efforts. I have always opposed the tactics of the bar advocates, not
their goal of inceased fees. As I said in September 2003:
The Bar Advocates need to find a way to pursue their legitimate goals without violating
their ethical obligations or the antitrust laws. They should continue their efforts to draft
improved legislation and seek sponsors. But lobbying in public while building the
infrastructure for the next boycott is not acceptable conduct. Achieving their longterm
goals, with lasting results, will surely come from persuasion, not coercion or collusion.
They need to create strong judicial, legislative and executive branch support for their fee
demands, while reaching out to other advocate groups, and earning the public’s respect
The apparent belief among assigned counsel in Massachusetts that they cannot achieve fair
fee levels without coordinated coercion bodes ill for the future.
update (Aug. 8, 2005) Champion Magazine, the journal of the National association of Criminal
Defense Lawyers, has an article in its August edition, entitled “Lawyers on Strike — Beware the
Antitrust Laws,” by Malia Brink, which is now (ironically) posted at the Bristol County Bar
Advocates website, here.
in the misty day
no window can be seen…
Kobayashi ISSA, translated by D.G. Lanoue
July 23, 2005
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