Bill increasing pay for court-appointed defense counsel supported by MBA

Thursday, May. 28, 2015
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The MBA's Blue Ribbon Commission on Criminal Justice Attorney Compensation hears from more than 30 criminal law practitioners and public officials during a three-hour public hearing on in March 2014. Prosecutors, defense attorneys and court chiefs testified about how low salaries have negatively impacted attorney retention, public safety and access to justice.

The Massachusetts Bar Association supports House Bill 1246, which would provide an increase in the hourly rate for court-appointed private attorneys, also known as bar advocates, who represent the indigent in criminal cases when assigned by the court and the Committee for Public Counsel Services. Bar advocates have not received a rate increase in the last 10 years.

"The Massachusetts Bar Association has been in the forefront of advocating for a living wage for criminal justice attorneys. Now is the time for the Legislature to act on this long overdue, pressing issue by passing the pay increase. The wheels of justice depend on fairness for all, including fair compensation for the attorneys assigned to defend the indigent." said MBA Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W. Healy. "Massachusetts citizens deserve a justice system based on equity and not a bifurcated system consisting of one for well-heeled clients and another for the working poor. Every citizen deserves a fair opportunity to a quality defense if accused of a crime."

Assigned private counsel do not receive regular cost of living increases. House Bill 1246 would provide a more appropriate hourly rate for criminal justice attorneys by increasing compensation to $75 per hour for District Court cases, children-in-need-of-services cases, children and family law cases, care and protection cases, sex offender registry cases, and mental health cases; $100 per hour for Superior Court cases; and $140 per hour for homicide cases.

The MBA's 2014 Blue Ribbon Commission Report, Doing Right by Those Who Labor for Justice, concluded that "present salaries paid to attorneys working in our criminal justice system are so inadequate that they cannot meet the financial obligations attendant to everyday, normal living." The MBA continues to supports fair and equitable compensation for those attorneys responsible for making our criminal justice system work and who provide access to justice to Massachusetts citizens when they need it most.