West Virginia reverses course on attorney compensation

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - West Virginia won't be cutting court-appointed attorneys' compensation after all.

Dana Eddy, executive director of Public Defender Services, has rescinded "emergency guidelines" that would have cut court-appointed lawyers' pay for travel time from $45 an hour to $20, the Charleston Gazette-Mail reported Monday. The guidelines also would have eliminated the attorneys' mileage reimbursement of 57 cents for mile. Time spent waiting in court also would have been more narrowly defined.

The cuts had been scheduled to take effect this week. The move, prompted by a lack of funds, infuriated many lawyers who take court-appointed cases. The attorneys are often required to drive long distances to court, jails and to the homes of their clients.

Eddy said the revisions are being revoked because of a supplemental appropriation submitted to the Legislature.

In addition to defending people charged with crimes, court-appointed lawyers often also represent children involved in abuse and neglect cases in circuit court. Rates for lawyers in family court are set by the West Virginia Supreme Court. County public defender offices also are separate.

Charleston attorney Anthony Majestro says that despite the reversal, he still plans to file a lawsuit seeking an increase in fees paid to lawyers in court-appointed cases. He will ask the state Supreme Court to do what it did in a 1989 case filed by an attorney who argued that he had a conflict of interest in representing his client because he wasn't being adequately compensated. At the time, the rates for court-appointed attorneys hadn't been increased in 12 years. The Supreme Court ruled in the attorneys' favor and raised the rates in 1990.

The pay has remained the same ever since: $45 per hour for out-of-court work and $65 an hour for in-court work. In family court, the rates are $80 for out-of-court work and $100 for work done in a courtroom.

In the 1989 case, justices determined the pay rate based on the federal court system, which currently is $127 an hour, according to a notice of intent to sue that was sent to Eddy.

Published: Wed, Jan 20, 2016