Metro

Baker signs bill to compensate lawyers for the poor

Massachusetts lawmakers Tuesday swiftly approved $26.1 million in retroactive wages that would compensate private lawyers who represent the poor and had gone without pay for weeks.

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff/File

Massachusetts lawmakers Tuesday swiftly approved $26.1 million in retroactive wages that would compensate private lawyers who represent the poor and had gone without pay for weeks.

Massachusetts lawmakers Tuesday swiftly approved $26.1 million in retroactive funds that would compensate private lawyers who represent the poor and had gone without pay for weeks. Governor Charlie Baker later signed the bill.

Thousands of private lawyers have gone at least five weeks without payment from the state for their representation of indigent clients in criminal and civil courts.

Advertisement

The Committee for Public Counsel Services had requested just over $150 million last year to pay the attorneys, who take on the vast majority of Massachusetts cases. But the state Legislature underfunded the agency, a perennial practice decried by private lawyers, and by June CPCS told attorneys there would be indefinite delays in their payments.

Lawyers were forced to postpone vacations, borrow money from family members, incur debt on their credit cards, and even skip meals as they waited to be paid.

Get Fast Forward in your inbox:
Forget yesterday's news. Get what you need today in this early-morning email.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

The Ways and Means Committee has created a reserve fund in the fiscal 2018 budget to avoid the same delays next spring.

“We greatly appreciate that the House and Senate acted quickly on our deficiency funding needs,” said Anthony Benedetti, chief counsel of CPCS. “Our funders recognize the importance of the services thousands of dedicated attorneys provide to the poor across the Commonwealth.”

As the state’s public defender agency, CPCS has a small staff of full-time attorneys but relies on approximately 3,000 private lawyers, who agree to represent poor clients for less than they would charge private clients. Known as bar advocates, they are paid $53 an hour for work in the district court, $60 an hour for felonies in superior court, and $100 for homicide cases. They may not bill more than 1,650 hours a year.

Advertisement

Bar advocates handle about 75 to 80 percent of the state’s cases, but, as independent contractors, they are not entitled to health care benefits or paid vacation.

Court-appointed lawyers on the civil side, who are paid $55 an hour, handle a wide range of clients, such as children removed from their homes following accusations of neglect or abuse or parents separated from their children.

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com.Follow her on Twitter @globemcramer.
Loading comments...
Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.
We hope you've enjoyed your free articles.
Continue reading by subscribing to Globe.com for just 99¢.
 Already a member? Log in Home
Subscriber Log In

We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles'

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com