Washington, DC (July 3, 2018) — On July 1, the Tennessee Supreme Court implemented an amendment to Court Rule 13, which sets the compensation rates and fee caps for assigned counsel in the state. The amendment raised the rate for out-of-court work from $40 per hour to $50 per hour, the same rate appointed counsel currently receive for their in-court hours. This would still leave Tennessee with rates among the lowest in the nation.
NACDL, along with Tennessee Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (TACDL), submitted detailed comments to the court on June 25th, encouraging the Court to adopt such amendments to Rule 13 as necessary to assure all those represented by public defense attorneys have counsel who are sufficiently resourced, supported, and trained. The amendments proposed and adopted by the Court provide only minimal cosmetic changes to the compensation system currently in place.
Although NACDL acknowledges the effort by the Court to improve resources for public defenders, and its attempt to make the most of the funding that was made available, the rates remain woefully inadequate.
NACDL Executive Director Norman Reimer noted the inadequacy of the new rate: “This rate increase is so minimal as to hardly constitute progress. It is a Band-Aid on a gash. It is long past time in this country to provide adequate funding for the basic constitutional right to counsel. Along with many other states, Tennessee has a long way to go. We are grateful that the Court recognized that this is only a first step and has pledged to do more, but the other branches of government should make the same commitment.”
Both TACDL and NACDL encouraged the Court to heed three of the recommendations of the 2017 Tennessee Indigent Representation Task Force (“Task Force”) report, Liberty & Justice for All: Providing Right to Counsel Services in Tennessee (“Liberty & Justice”) relating specifically to Rule 13, only one of which the Court adopted. In their comments to the Court, TACDL and NACDL made further recommendations that have ostensibly been ignored, specifically:
- Raise the rate of compensation for court-appointed counsel to at least $75/hour; and
- Eliminate the use of caps and the need for specific “complex case” designations, allowing attorneys to be paid fully for the work they perform.
TACDL and NACDL believe these changes are vital to assuring a healthy, vibrant, and constitutionally effective public defense delivery system in Tennessee. Simply put, the new rate increase will continue to serve as insufficient compensation for those working in Tennessee’s overworked public defender system.
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