Our Legislature wants us to believe “We balance the budget.” So they do a kind of carnival slight of hand where they deliberately underfund accounts, and pretend in the press and to voters to have fully funded those accounts. One of those underfunded accounts is to private attorneys, almost all of whom are solo practitioners running on almost no margin who, out of commitment to access to justice represent the indigent. I am one of those attorneys making up the thin red, white, and blue line that creates access to justice for the destitute, such as children in foster care and their parents. Fully 40% [last statistic I received] of the cases and costs for court appointed attorneys do not go for representing alleged criminals, but rather to Children Requiring Assistance [CRA] cases, children in foster homes, and the mentally ill [just for example]. Payments to such attorneys are made from one line item in the state budget – 0321-1510. That line item ran out of funds June 9th. No funds were put in that line item for fiscal year 2018 – so the temporary budget used to fake avoidance of a shut down? Payment is shut down to the indigent defense private bar. None of us have received any payment since June 9th.
And so the FY 2017 budget was never balanced. No really – never. It was a shell game. And others who do work as 1099 contractors to the state like I do are treated with the same fakery and disrespect – but none as badly as the attorneys standing between the state and suffering children, families, teenagers, and the mentally ill are treated.
Here is what the State House News Service, as published in the Sentinel, disclosed:
In the absence of a state budget, Newton Mayor Setti Warren, who is running for governor as a Democrat, warned of a coming “new age of austerity” in Massachusetts if those on Beacon Hill didn’t stop the “secrecy and fiscal games and gimmicks.”
… Warren did not mention specific “gimmicks” that he took issue with, but Gov. Charlie Baker has in the past taken issue with the Legislature’s preference for underfunding some accounts, such as indigent defense counsel services, in the annual spending bill and then using mid-year supplemental appropriation bills to supply additional money as the need arises.
While it’s unknown how the Legislature will fund the Committee for Public Counsel Services in the fiscal 2018 budget, officials at CPCS confirmed to the News Service Wednesday that the agency has run out of money for fiscal 2017 cases and will not be able to pay attorneys until a final deficiency budget is passed later this year.
One official said the price tag will be roughly $25 million to pay lawyers who have performed services for indigent clients.
Read more: http://www.sentinelandenterprise.com/breakingnews/ci_31117982/budget-pot-bills-appear-linked-larger-bargaining#ixzz4m33JwGGK
(ed note: Edited to stay within fair use. Subscribe to newspapers. — CB)