The Nashville Tennessean has been running a series of articles on the request for legal fees by the public guardian of Nashville . Jeanan Mills Stuart has billed her wards more than $1.1 million dollars from 2009 to 2011. Ms. Stuart bills $225 per hour for such tasks as going to a concert or lunch. The reason I mention this story is to highlight the contrast to those lawyers in the criminal justice system.
Prosecutors do not get paid $225.00 per hour to prosecute violent criminals. In fact, one story about a prosecutor several years ago described her part time job on the weekends to pay her law school debt while she fought crime Monday thru Friday.. Same thing for the public defenders who defend those charged with crimes. Heck, they don’t even get to go to a concert at the symphony. Public defenders get to spend their time visiting folks in jail.
My biggest problem is those lawyers that are appointed by the court to represent people that are indigent. Compared to Ms. Stuart’s pay, they get $40.00 per hour out of court and $50.00 per hour in court. Sounds like great pay? WRONG. Overhead, an office, and a phone are basic office expenses that must be paid. The rate has not increased in years and there is a cap on fees in most cases with the exception of a death penalty case. Then once they submit a bill , the court reviews the bill and as well as the Administrative Office of the Courts.
Thanks Ms. Stuart for giving lawyers a bad name. Lawyers who work in the criminal justice system and truly care about what happens are not compensated for the value they bring. Here is my suggestion:
1. Increase the pay of those in the criminal justice system including assistant district attorneys and public defenders.
2. Increase the hourly rate for those lawyers appointed by the court.
The Tennessee Association for Criminal Defense Lawyers have filed a petition to increase rates for lawyers with the Supreme Court. It appears to be headed nowhere. Despite this, we read about a public guardian charging legal fees for routine tasks . I wonder what she would charge for a first degree murder charge? It is just a little tougher than going to the symphony.