Sequestration Forces Cuts For Federal Court-Appointed Lawyers

WASHINGTON -- Private attorneys appointed by federal courts to represent poor clients will be paid $15 less per hour next year thanks to sequestration, the U.S. Judicial Conference announced Monday.

Under the plan, as laid out in a letter from Judicial Conference Chairman U.S. District Judge William B. Traxler Jr., private attorneys appointed under the Criminal Justice Act, known as CJA panel lawyers, would be paid $15 less per hour starting in September, and up to four weeks of their pay for fiscal year 2014 would be delayed until fiscal year 2015.

Traxler wrote that "reducing panel attorney compensation rates, deferring panel attorney payments, and limiting federal defender organization funding to the maintenance of current on-board staff are undesirable, and may impact the delivery of justice, but are necessary to avoid permanent damage to the federal defender program." The cuts, he wrote, were "not sustainable in the long term, and certainly would not be required if the judiciary were receiving an appropriate level of funding in this account."

As The Huffington Post has reported, sequestration resulted in deep cuts for federal public defenders across the country, meaning private court-appointed attorneys might need to pick up more cases. Typically CJA lawyers are more expensive than federal public defenders, but the reduced rates could mean fewer CJA lawyers would be willing to pick up cases.