Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Trial Lawyer Balloons

The trial lawyers know a last chance when they see one. With a trial lawyer turned lame-duck governor going into a final legislative session, the Iowa Bar Association is ramping up to push legislation that will increase the hourly “reimbursement” rate for indigent attorney services. They already get $50 an hour, but they need more to make sure they hold onto a profit margin. What other indigent social service program even has a profit margin in their reimbursement? From the DMR.

Lawyers defending poor want pay raise

The Iowa Bar Association wants a pay raise for lawyers who defend the poor.

The bar association is pushing for a $10 increase in the hourly base rate of $50 paid for all but the most serious crimes.

A bar association study found that Iowa lawyers spend an average of $45 an hour on overhead, including taxes, support staff and rent.

J.C. Salvo, association president, said the key is to ensure the accused receive the best representation.

Indigent defendants make up about 80 percent of those charged with crimes in Iowa. They are required to pay back the money spent for their defense, but in reality it’s Iowa taxpayers who pay the bill.

There’s a long list of “services” that go underfunded, and to think that legal representation for guys like Roger Bentley and Pierre Pierce should be a budget “priority” is @#$% nuts. If the Iowa Bar Association actually believes that indigent defense lawyers deserve a pay raise -- in light of the chronic low pay (reimbursement) rates for teachers, health care providers and social service workers -- they’re delusional.

Budgeteering is always about slicing up the money pie, and the governor & legislators do cut healthy slices for their friends, but this is one of those budget votes that will only happen if it’s buried in the details of some last minute deal. A legislator who knowingly votes in favor of a pay increase for lawyers representing our indigent celebrity scum is just asking for a tough October.

The political sideshow to look for is the Larson/Hogg skirmish on the issue.


Comments:
I'm not a lawyer so I'm not sure how this all works, but if someone told me I had to spend at least part of my time each week, not making my normal salary (and in fact lessening it), but instead working for the state for nothing, I would probably ask for a raise as well.
 
Bob,

Why don't you tell that to the health care professionals who see hundreds of people on Medicaid, which is the health care equivalent to the indigent defense fund, and realize a financial lose on every Medicaid patient.

Haven't you ever wondered why all the providers work for the big hospitals? They can't afford to be independent. Moreover, no sane dentist in the state takes Medicaid patients. That leaves counties in Iowa where not a single dentist will take Medicaid.

I am sure Roger Bentley deserves “quality” representation, but with budgeting as a zero sum game, an indigent defense pay increase comes at the expense of a pediatric Medicaid patient’s teeth.
 
You've got a constitutional right to competent representation. Nothing like that in health care. Emergency treatment, yeah, but there is no right to a dentist, unfortunately.

And I wouldn't spend 7 years in college/law school to get what ammounts to 5$ an hour when everything is taken into account. Not many competent attorneys would, either.

Also, there is a big difference between trial lawyers and public defenders. Two entirely different beasts.
 
Chris,

Just because something is legally defined as a right, doesn't necessarily mean that it needs to be compensated at a particular rate. Moreover, health care isn't a right on paper and yet with something called EMTALA*, hospital ERs often cannot turn the uninsured away, hence a de facto right to health care.

Finally, as budgeting is a zero sum game, if the Iowa Bar is successful at securing their indigent defense monies it means some other program as to lose. In my world view the defense of Roger Bentley is not has high a priority as figuring out methods to get Medicaid kids into dentists' chairs. But we all have our priorities.

* In 1986, Congress enacted EMTALA to ensure public access to emergency services regardless of ability to pay. Section 1867 of the Social Security Act imposes specific obligations on Medicare-participating hospitals that offer emergency services to provide a medical screening examination (MSE) when a request is made for examination or treatment for an emergency medical condition (EMC), including active labor, regardless of an individuals's ability to pay. Hospitals are then required to provide stabilizing treatment for patients with EMCs. If a hospital is unable to stabilize a patient within its capability, or if the patient requests, an appropriate transfer should be implemented.
 
Anybody want to comment on Alfredo Parrish and his indigent defense fund application for fees in the legal representation of Pierre Pierce?
 
The state is required to supply competent attorneys to defendants. There is nothing saying they should be paid X for their services, but the state cannot force lawyers to work for free/cheap. It needs to pay something approximating a market rate or hire a staff of full time attorneys to meet its obligation. Or it could rely completely on pro-bono/goodwill representation, but then you run into a speedy trial problem. This is a fundamental right, part of the social contract that the gov't has no choice but to provide.

I don't disagree with you about a statutory right to emergency medical care but there are few situations where dental work would be considered a true emergency relative to what happens in an ER. Medical care is a political issue that only gets addressed when enough people complain as opposed to a constitutional gauruntee that needs no popular support for enforcement.

I've tuned out the Pierce saga (and on a related note, Hawkeye atheletics) and so am unqualified to comment...
 
Chris,

I think this is one of those issues where we'll just have to agree to disagree.

And on dental care: there's reams of academic research on the long term health consequences associated with the lack of dental care; diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and even pre-term births. These are all the sorts of issues that end up in ERs.
 
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