Attorneys call for better pay for indigent defense

WASHINGTON COUNTY, TN (WJHL) – Despite the millions Tennessee spends hiring attorneys for defendants who can’t afford lawyers of their own, an attorney who practices in the Tri-Cities says the state needs to pay those lawyers more.

While district attorneys and public defenders make roughly $70/hour, the most a court-appointed attorney can make is $50/hour.

Chris Seaton says he no longer represents indigent clients, because it wasn’t financially sustainable. He says other experienced attorneys have done the same, which often leaves the fates of defendants in the hands of new and inexperienced lawyers.

“Our hands as private attorneys are tied by the amounts the Administrative Office of the Courts has set, whereas the state, it has unlimited resources,” he said. “Sometimes you’re going to have attorneys encouraging people to take pleas in cases that don’t need to plead out.”

The Tennessee Supreme Court appointed a task force to look into the issue back in October

“We must not accept anything less than the most qualified representation in our courts, but we must also be sure that those receiving indigent representation qualify for those services and that the lawyers who perform the services are adequately compensated,” Chief Justice Sharon Lee said in a statement in October.

A spokesperson tells us the group is currently conducting research and collecting data.

Copyright WJHL 2016. All rights reserved.

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