Tennessee Supreme Court Backs Changes To State’s Indigent Representation Structure

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Tennessee Supreme Court, acting on recommendations from its Indigent Representation Task Force, is taking action to reform the state’s method for providing legal assistance to individuals who are unable to afford an attorney.

“The task force confirmed what many of us already suspected: The system needs major reforms,” said Chief Justice Jeff Bivins. “While no perfect solution exists, the Court believes the improvements we commit to today will move the state toward a more efficient, effective means of providing this representation that our federal and state constitutions guarantee.”

Some of these changes require legislation that the Court will be supporting in the 2018 legislative session. In addition, the Court intends to make changes to several state court rules that govern how attorneys are compensated, provided the governor and state legislators approve the requested funding.

One key change is an increase in the amount attorneys are paid to work on such cases, a compensation rate that has not changed in 20 years. The Court will seek funding to increase the rates to $65 per hour, from the current $40 per hour for work outside court and $50 hourly for time spent in court. Additionally, current rules “cap” compensation on most cases at $1,000 or $1,500. The Court will request an appropriation in next year’s budget to raise the caps by $500 on all felonies and by $250 on juvenile matters.

Additionally, the Court is endorsing the recommendations to establish an appellate division of the public defenders’ offices to handle all appeals involving those offices, as well as to establish a conflicts division to facilitate representation of more indigent defendants by public defenders in lieu of private attorneys being appointed to the cases.

The Court also expects to support legislation creating a statewide commission to oversee indigent representation issues, including the appellate and conflict divisions. The commission would not impact the state’s local public defenders, who are elected officials.

One complaint the task force heard during its work was that the requirement to bill at a case’s conclusion sometimes means waiting years to receive payment for work performed. The Court, through its Administrative Office of the Courts, will implement periodic billing to address this problem, first in juvenile dependent and neglect cases, which tend to last the longest.

Finally, in an effort to be better stewards of taxpayer money, the Court will modify indigency forms to require judges to explain and certify the existence of a conflict before appointment of private counsel. This will ensure that public defenders are the primary resource for indigent cases, and appointed private counsel secondary.

The recommendations received by the Court were detailed in a 200-page report, Liberty and Justice for All: Providing Right to Counsel Services in Tennessee, issued by the Indigent Representation Task Force, a group of lawyers, judges, and educators from across the state who spent 18 months examining practices, problems, and recommendations concerning Tennessee’s system for indigent representation. The task force, which was appointed by the Tennessee Supreme Court, urged sweeping changes to the state’s indigent representation structure.

“The State of Tennessee carries the obligation to comply with the requirements of the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 9 of the Tennessee Constitution. The Court takes seriously our duty to see that the state’s programs providing legal assistance to eligible adults and children are providing that service in an organized, professional way that is fair to those represented, as well as to the taxpayers of this state,” Chief Justice Bivins said.



Circadian Consulting, Barnett Jones Wilson Join INCubator Program

The INCubator in the Hamilton County Business Development Center is an "entrepreneurial sanctuary," providing space and support services for a range of up and coming businesses. With nearly 600 graduates in 30 years, and the ability to house up to 70 businesses at a time, the INCubator's businesses include those new on the scene, recent graduates launching into the local market ... (click for more)

Boyd Veal To Represent Town Of Signal Mountain On WWTA Board

Signal Mountain Town Manager Boyd Veal has been appointed by the Town Council to serve on the WWTA Board. He replaces Dick Gee who has moved outside of the town limits of Signal Mountain.   Mr. Veal has over 25 years of experience on Signal Mountain.  He began his career as a patrol officer and rose through the ranks to become chief of police in 2004.  He ... (click for more)

Government Says Former Pilot Travel Centers President Hazelwood Should Be Sentenced To 168-210 Months; Hearing Projected To Take 11 Hours Over 2 Days

The government is asking that former Pilot Travel Centers president Mark Hazelwood be sentenced to between 168-210 months for his part in a fraud against truckers. The government is also asking that Hazelwood be ordered to pay a $750,000 fine. It was noted that all restitution has been made by Pilot to the tune of some $100 million. Attorney Brad Henry, of Knoxville and New ... (click for more)

Mother Of 15-Year-Old Killed By His Father Said McElrath Had Been Acting "Manic"

The mother of a 15-year-old boy who was killed by his father said Michael McElrath had been acting "manic" in the days leading up to the tragic incident in Hixson on Aug. 18. Judge Alex McVeigh bound a charge of criminal homicide against McElrath, a former jail officer, to the Grand Jury. He is charged in the death of Dylan McElrath, who was a sophomore at Hixson High School. ... (click for more)

Arming Teachers With Guns Will Be Too Dangerous - And Response (3)

Arming teachers with guns in the classroom, as Bill Lee proposes, would be the single most dangerous thing to happen to students in Tennessee history. Students and teachers in close proximity to loaded firearms daily? Across this state, in middle schools alone, there are probably hundreds of student/teacher conflicts a day. What if a student got hold of gun in a struggle with ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Who Is This ‘New Voice’?

It’s easy for me to say that I either know, or know about, almost every person running in November for the state legislature. Yet when I describe Lemon Williams as the most exciting of the bunch, that’s because he's the only guy I had never heard of when he picked up his qualifying papers. He just turned out the best political aspirant I have had a conversation with in the last ... (click for more)