Alabama House OKs pay increase for attorneys representing indigent clients

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Rep. Cynthia Almond, R-Tuscaloosa, listens to a debate in the Alabama House of Representatives on Feb. 20, 2024 at the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery, Alabama. (Brian Lyman/Alabama Reflector)

The Alabama House Tuesday approved a bill that would provide more money for attorneys representing indigent clients.

HB 275, sponsored by Rep. Cynthia Almond, R-Tuscaloosa, would raise the hourly rate for lawyers representing defendants who cannot afford to hire their own lawyers.

“For years, since 2011, the hourly rate has been $70 per hour, in court and out of court, including their overhead, and this is an increase primarily in the more serious felonies, capital murder and Class A felonies,” Almond said.

The bill passed on a 99-1 vote.

The legislation would set a rate of $120 per hour, with no cap on the total fee, for an attorney representing an indigent client charged with a capital offense or a charge which carries a possible sentence of life without parole.

The defense rate for a Class A felony, punishable by up to 99 years in prison, would be one hundred ten dollars ($110) per hour. The total fee cannot exceed $6,500.

Defense for Class B felonies, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, would be paid at $90 per hour, with a total cap of $6,000.

The rate would be $70 per hour, capped at $4,500, in cases where the original charge is a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, or a Class D felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Attorneys representing juvenile cases would be compensated $80 per hour, with a $4,500 cap.

The proposal bill requires that two lawyers on the voluntary advisory board for indigent defense must be local practicing attorneys in that circuit. If the chief judge has a conflict, they can appoint another judge to the board.

The bill also mandates that all lawyers representing indigent clients through court appointments review billing guidelines established by the Office of Indigent Services.

Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville, said that the U.S. Constitution requires the state to appoint a lawyer to represent indigent defendants, especially when they face jail time.

In some counties, he said, there aren’t enough lawyers to pull into or even fund a public defender program. They have to contract lawyers. Even in large counties, such as Tuscaloosa and Jefferson which have public defenders, he said parties may run into conflict.

“You must make sure that individual has an attorney. Or if it’s in a small county, where you don’t even have enough lawyers to fund a public defender program or place them into a contract-type situations, this is the way we go about doing it,” Hill said.

The bill moves to the Senate, where a similar version of the bill passed on Feb. 15.

The post Alabama House OKs pay increase for attorneys representing indigent clients appeared first on Alabama Reflector.