Tonight on ABC-7 Xtra at 10:35 pm, we're going to be discussing the recent pay increase for court-appointed attorneys.
County Commissioner Vince Perez, who says taxpayers simply cannot afford the pay increase, will be joining us on the program tonight. So will Clara Hernandez, El Paso County's Public Defender.
On Thursday, the Council of Judges - which consists of all of the elected District and County Judges - voted to increase the pay for court-appointed lawyers. These are the attorneys whom Judges appoint to a case when a defendant cannot afford a lawyer. Currently, court-appointed attorneys are paid $75 an hour for time they spend on a case in court and $60 for time out of court. The new rate, voted on and adopted by the Judges will be: $90 in court and $75 out of court. The County Auditor says County Commissioners are going to have to find a way to get the $1.1 million a year the increase will cost.
Judges insist the lawyers are underpaid. But money isn't the only issue: Perez points to a small pool of attorneys who are getting a big chunk of the money. About 30 attorneys of the 300 eligible received half of the $6.3 million the County spent on indigent defense in fiscal year 2013. He believes the process to appoint attorneys should be more transparent and fair. Judges insist they use their discretion to choose the best attorneys for individual cases.
We'll discuss all of this on ABC7 Xtra tonight at 10:35 pm. Join the conversation by calling with your questions/comments at 915-496-1775, tweeting to host Maria Garcia @MariaGABC7, or sending an email to email@example.com.
To read our prior stories on this topic, go to http://bit.ly/1e4dd07 for Thursday's story and http://bit.ly/19lg73a for a special I-Team investigation.