THE law entitles a citizen accused to a public defender if they are indigent. Indigent would be defined as receiving government assistance for subsistence (unemployment, food stamps, and public housing). The courts require proof of this and to receive a public defender without financially qualifying is a theft offense, which is a crime of moral turpitude and serious. Most people think that a public defender is free to them. It is not. Although the taxpayers pay for this legal service (some counties have a public defender’s office- others use a wheel court appointment system), it is not free to the citizen accused. The law allows the court to order the defendant to pay back the services (at a much discounted rate) back as a condition of the plea or sentence. If it is a dismissal, the judge can order these fees paid back (proof) before the dismissal is signed. The court appointment system does not amount to getting a “free lawyer.”
The Coffey Firm associates and I purposely do not take court appointments. We do not feel that it is fair to unduly burden ourselves with our resources when we have retained clients that are paying for our time, attention and reputation. In addition, we provide physical facilities and ample staff to accommodate our clients and their needs during normal working hours. Being available for our clients is part of the fee they pay us for, versus getting paid a court appearance, which is typical for a court appointed lawyer. Court appointed lawyers must fight to get paid for non-court time and often are not compensated fairly for such. This is not a problem with privately retained lawyers. Court appointed lawyers also do not have the resources available for top continued legal education (for example, expensive specialized seminars). Often it is this difference in training which results in drastically different results given the same set of facts.
Much like in the field of medicine or taking your car for repairs at a shop that specializes in that brand of car or car repair, court appointed lawyers as a general rule do not hold the level of knowledge or specialization in a particular field which can make all the difference in a case result. It is vital that our courts continue to appoint lawyers to the indigent who cannot afford specialized retained counsel; however, it is just as important for the public to understand the distinct disadvantages of such.