|Posted on October 19, 2017 at 1:00 AM|
Are you a court appointed lawyer? That's a question I've been asked a number of times as I walked the halls of the Cameron and Bexar County Courthouses. It seems like a simple question but the answer is not so simple. In short, yes, I do court appointed work. But no, I cannot "appoint" myself to represent any individuals. Every county has a system for appointing attorneys to cases depending on the attorney's experience, the level of offense (misdemeanor, State Jail Felony, 3rd degree felony, etc) and type of case. (DWI, Possession of Controlled Substances, Sexual Assault, etc).
Typically, an individual who cannot afford to hire an attorney must go to court on the date that he or she is scheduled for the initial hearing, and ask the court to appoint an attorney. The court will then conduct an interview to determine whether the person qualifies for a court appointed lawyer and refer to it's list of available attorneys to appoint.
Now for the scary part, court appointed lawyers typically work for drastically reduced fees. Many counties pay attorneys a "flat fee" of $100 to $150 per misdemeanor case. In San Antonio (Bexar County) attorneys earn $100.00 flat fee for a misdemeanor plea and $25 for each additional case a person may be charged with. Felonies pay a little more depending on the level of felony. Additionally, in many counties it takes between 4 to 6 weeks after a voucher is submitted for the payment to be made. That means that for "court appointed" attorneys to make ends meet, they have to work out as many cases as they can as quickly as they can so they can get paid as soon as possible. (Believe it or not, attorneys have bills to pay too).
I know some court-appointed lawyers are very well qualified and do very good work. However many are in it for the quick flip of a case so they can submit a voucher and be paid sooner rather than later. (PLEAD 'EM AND BLEED 'EM-When a client is informed that he or she is guilty and should just plead guilty, without much effort without much by way of investigation or legal research, [plead em] and the client is left with a mountain of fines, fees, court costs, and other associated fees that go along with a plea [bleed 'em])
Many cases are disposed with a plea bargain, but will your court-appointed attorney put in the work necessary to ensure the best plea-bargain possible? Will he or she treat you with respect and dignity? Will he or she be prepared to put the time into preparation of your case for trial? Will your attorney have trial experience? Maybe. Do you really want to take that risk? Be careful what you wish for. . . you just might get it.
Categories: Boots On the Ground