Kansas may have to start looking outside its borders to find attorneys who will take indigent defendants’ cases because not enough qualified lawyers in some counties are willing to work for the state reimbursement rate, according to a state official.
Kansas statutes authorize the board to pay up to $80 per hour for private attorneys who agree to take appointed cases.
But in 2010, budget problems led the board to cut the rate it pays to $62 per hour. The Kansas Board of Indigents’ Defense Services is seeking to raise the rate to $65 per hour, though that still would be far lower than many attorneys’ salaries.
The board’s executive director, Patricia Scalia, told a legislative committee Monday that the problem is especially severe in some of the state’s smaller counties, the Lawrence Journal-World reported.
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“We have about exhausted the number of attorneys who are licensed in Kansas, and if this continued, it wouldn’t be too much longer before we were having to bring in attorneys from other states, Oklahoma or Missouri,” Scalia told reporters after the hearing.
Scalia said there are two types of attorneys for indigent defendants: public defenders who work for an agency, typically on salary, who do nothing but indigent defense work; and assigned counsel, or private attorneys who have agreed to take cases on assignment.
A typical attorney in private practice in Lawrence would charge a paying client $200 to $250 an hour for criminal cases that go to trial, said Douglas County District Judge Robert Fairchild, the administrative judge for the Seventh Judicial District.
Fairchild said the situation in Douglas County hasn’t gotten as serious as some other counties, but that there is a shortage of qualified local attorneys willing to work for the state’s rate.
“It could come to a crisis at some point,” he said.
The Board of Indigents’ Defense Services is proposing to raise the payment rate through a regulatory change.
Lawmakers raised no objections Monday to the proposed change. The board estimates the increased rates would cost about $200,000, which Scalia said could be funded through savings the agency realized in a set of resentencing cases earlier this year.