But private lawyers, known as bar advocates, say they perform a valuable service at a low cost.
“I’m surprised the governor would want to eliminate a successful, privatized group of very economically independent contractors,” said Deborah Sirotkin Butler, a family law attorney who takes some court appointments on child welfare cases.
She said she doesn’t bill the state for much of the time she spends on court-appointed cases
“When I represent a sexually abused 12-year-old, I get $50 an hour,” she said. “If I have to wait six hours for a status hearing, I can only bill for one. So I’m actually earning $12 an hour. But I do it because I care about kids.”
Hiring 1,000 lawyers, she said, would mean the state will have to pay salaries, vacations, insurance, and pensions.
“I pay for my own office,” Sirotkin Butler said. “I pay for every sheet of paper. No one reimburses us. We pay our own malpractice insurance and health insurance. Unless they’re intending to go the route of meet-and-greet, sham representation, how can it be cheaper?”
Currently, private attorneys take appointments to represent 90% of cases and staff handle 10% with 200 attorneys – unless case loads are to be vastly increased, it would take 1800 newly hired attorneys and 600-800 support staff, all new state employees to replace what local small firms do. Anotherwards, eliminating as many as 4000 private jobs (the local attorneys who may be driven out of business, and the secretaries and clerks they would have to fire).
Besides, Gov Patrick wants to move indigent defence into the Executive Branch. Sounds like a violation of separation of powers to me. Our founding fathers had had enough of King George and wanted checks and balances. There are neither checks, nor balance in Governor Patrick’s plan.
Fox News sent a reporter and a camera over I was interviewed in my home office. You don’t get rich representing kids in foster care, parents under attack by the state, or ordinary people with family law problems – and a home office and no staff are how I do what I do. What I said came from the heart.
You can see the Governor’s Budget here The work I do when I represent kids in foster care used to be at line item 0321-1510. That line item has been eliminated – and the new executive department costs more than privatized attorneys ever did.
Of course, just one of those DAs campaigning to abolish private bar advocates and court appointments donated $93,000 – just go check at the Office of Campaign Finance and key in “Sutter”. Sam Sutter is the President of the Massachusetts DA Association and I bet if you checked donations, one DA at a time, all of them have ponied up to the Governor, big time.
I am a Democrat, but on this one, Governor Patrick is dead wrong. Discarding decades of valiant service by dedicated private attorneys for the poor, and leading to thousands of laid off staff across the state is just plain a bad plan, and I believe it would take 2800 new hires to replace what private attorneys like myself have done as part of our law practices, often funding what we do for children and families in a child welfare practice with the private parts of our practice in other family law work such as divorces, wills, and the like.
I have posted an almost identical column at Red Mass Group.