In a move that has surprised many in the Pennsylvania legal community, a group of court-appointed death penalty attorneys led by Marc Bookman has filed suit against the Commonwealth for the lackluster rates it pays in homicide cases.
Surprisingly, the suit isn’t actually about attorneys’ fees and unwanted court appointments.
No, it’s about clients and their constitutional rights.
Marc Bookman is actually a former public defender who currently runs his own death penalty non-profit, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer. After years of witnessing the dreadful state of Philadelphia County's capital case system, he's speaking out.
The suit alleges that not only does Philadelphia's District Attorney's office lead the state in the number of capital cases it files, but that it also has the highest reversal rate in the country on the grounds of ineffective counsel.
Bookman's contention is that appointed counsel's dismal pay--$1,333 pretrial and $2,000 at trial--is behind that reversal number.
Unfortunately, Bookman is probably right. While some lawyers consider serving court-appointed clients part of their ethical duties, others look upon it with ire. Most lawyers in the second category would admit that their opinion is directly linked to the often dismal pay.
Even so, there's a larger problem here, and it's with the attorneys who let their salary get in the way of how vigorously they represent a client.
Yes, Philadelphia attorneys should be paid more to try capital cases, but that shouldn't render them incompetent. These are death penalty cases, and regardless of the circumstances, defendants deserve effective counsel.
- Defense Attorneys in Death Penalty Cases in Philadelphia File Court Challenge to Low Pay (ABA Journal)
- Murder Mistrial Declared: NY Defense Lawyer Had Never Tried a Case (FindLaw's Strategist)
- Colorado Disciplinary Hearing Brings Courtroom Fireworks (FindLaw's Strategist)