Page 20 - Ad Hoc Report June 2018
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resources attorneys may or may not use in defending their clients and what consti- tutes fair compensation for their legal services. The following sections explore these administrative obstacles to a full and effective defense in greater detail.
Inadequate Compensation and Guidance for Panel Attorneys
Nationwide, an estimated 10,000 to 11,000 attorneys in private practice—many of them solo practitioners—stand ready to represent indigent defendants in federal court. Yet these frontline defenders are not adequately compensated. In fiscal year 2017, the pay rate for panel attorneys in non-capital felony cases was $132 per hour. This is far less than the prevailing rate for criminal defense work and even less than the $144 per hour that Congress has authorized to pay under the statute.
When the high cost of living in some cities is considered, along with high over- head expenses, the effective rate of compensation for panel attorneys is arguably lower than the original rates authorized by Congress in 1964. Although a sizable increase in compensation has been needed for years—and the judiciary’s official policy is to seek the full rate authorized by Congress—the judiciary has typically requested only minor increases that are less than the authorized amount as a way to limit its overall budget request to Congress.
Inadequate Compensation
 Fiscal Year
Paid Rate
Maximum Authorized Rate*
Judiciary’s Request to Congress
Rate Approved By Congress
$75/$55 (in-court/out-of-court)
2 0 1 7
*The assumed rate at the time the judiciary submitted its budget request to Congress.
Not only are hourly rates unrealistically low, panel attorneys aren’t even guaranteed payment-in-full for the services they provide. Many witnesses told the Committee that so-called “voucher cutting” by district court judges who have the responsibility for approving requests for payment is a common occurrence—appar- ently more so in some districts and among some judges. In addition to ad hoc cuts, judges in some districts compare vouchers for similar types of cases or between co-defendants in the same case and average the amounts, paying everyone the same as if the work involved in defending different individuals was exactly the same. These views are supported by quantitative data collected in surveys of panel attor- neys that this Committee conducted as part of its review process, data that indicates
No recommendation presented herein represents T H E A D H O C C O M M I T T E E T O R E V I E W T H E C R I M I N A L J U S T I C E A C T the policy of the Judicial Conference of the United States unless approved by the Conference itself.

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