Legislative Move Stalls Federal Suit
Richmond, VA (February 1, 2006) – The Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers held a news conference at the Capitol Building in Richmond today to announce a possible legislative compromise to the decades-old problem of caps on court-appointed lawyer fees criminal cases. The lawyers’ associations, and their counsel, the D.C., law firm of Covington and Burling were prepared to file a suit in federal court today challenging the way attorneys for indigent criminal defendants are paid in the state.
Steven Benjamin, who sits on NACDL’s Board of Directors and is Co-Chair of the Association’s Indigent Defense Committee, made this statement in an e-mail to the national office in Washington:
“Several weeks ago, as Co-Chair of the NACDL Indigent Defense Committee, I met with the Board of VACDL, our Virginia affiliate, and obtained the Board's support for a federal class action lawsuit that NACDL intended to file in late January in U.S. District Court in Richmond, Virginia. I also advised the Board that Senator Ken Stolle (R-Va. Beach) and Delegate Dave Albo, (R-Fairfax), Chairs of the Senate and House Courts Committees, had agreed to file and support legislation that would remove the caps and pay court-appointed lawyers on an hourly basis.
“The lawsuit is ready to go. It seeks declaratory relief that the caps are unconstitutional, and injunctive relief from their enforcement. The suit was to be filed during the last week of January. It was during this period that our attorneys, Covington & Burling, and NACDL Indigent Defense Counsel, Malia Brink, were in negotiations with Richard Cullen, a former U.S. Attorney and former Va. Attorney General, and other concerned individuals whose support and influence were calculated to be of significant help to our efforts. Ultimately, on the excellent advice of counsel, NACDL decided to delay the immediate filing of this suit. I want to emphasize that it is in our hands and ready to go the moment it becomes unavoidable, and I agree that it has appeared to be unavoidable for many years. Currently, however, we are adopting the posture that we feel is best designed to obtain our goal of removing these caps at long last.”
Statements on this matter by former Virginia Attorneys General Richard Cullen and William G. Broaddus, of the Richmond firm McGuire Woods, and the law firm of Covington & Burling, and a case summary and fact sheet, are on NACDL’s Indigent Defense Web page.
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