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.


Dan Howell Awarded Legislator Of The Year Honors By FGA

Oreck Of Chattanooga Has New Location

Check Into Cash Named Best Overall Payday Lender In USA


The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) has named Tennessee Representative Dan Howell as legislator of the year. The award was presented December 6th at the annual FGA policy summit ... (click for more)

Oreck of Chattanooga/Bobby Majors Vacuum & Service has moved to 2515 Lifestyle Way, Suite 109, in the Waterside development between Burlington and REI Co-op. The store was previously at ... (click for more)

Check Into Cash announced Tuesday it has been named “Best Overall Payday Lender” by Top 10 Reviews for 2018, scoring 9.3/10 on the respected consumer site’s rating system. Check Into Cash ... (click for more)


Business

Dan Howell Awarded Legislator Of The Year Honors By FGA

The Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) has named Tennessee Representative Dan Howell as legislator of the year. The award was presented December 6th at the annual FGA policy summit in Orlando, Florida. The award is traditionally given to an elected official who is dedicated to promoting work and combating long-term government dependency in their state. “Across the ... (click for more)

Oreck Of Chattanooga Has New Location

Oreck of Chattanooga/Bobby Majors Vacuum & Service has moved to 2515 Lifestyle Way, Suite 109, in the Waterside development between Burlington and REI Co-op. The store was previously at Hamilton Point at 7200 Hamilton Place Blvd. Former UT All-American Bobby Majors owns the store. They sell Oreck and Miele vacuums and accessories and service all brands. They may ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Fumes Force Evacuation Of City Hall Friday Morning

Chattanooga firefighters responded to a report of a gas leak around 8 a.m. on Friday at City Hall. Employees inside City Hall reported smelling a chemical odor and called 911. Upon arrival, Battalion Chief Ashley May ordered the evacuation of city hall as a precaution. After a brief investigation, it was determined that a subcontractor for the city's stormwater division ... (click for more)

New Pro Soccer Team Is Interested In Building Training Facility At Camp Jordan Park

The Chattanooga Red Wolves professional soccer team may be coming to East Ridge. In Thursday night’s Agenda Session of the East Ridge City Council meeting, Red Wolves owner Bob Martino told the council that he wants to enter into a public/private partnership with the city to build a practice facility near the existing Weldon Osborne Stadium in Camp Jordan Park. The facility would ... (click for more)

Opinion

Tom Caldwell Was Always A Champion For Orange Grove

Tom Caldwell was a devoted husband, father of four children and 13 grandchildren, veteran of World War II, Harvard University law school graduate, church member and outstanding corporate, tax and estate planning attorney at three of Chattanooga's leading law firms. His family, personal, legal, military, religious and civic duties are too many to list. As a member of the Chattanooga ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: So Long, 'Mr. Chaudion'

It’s been a couple of years ago, almost three, when I walked into a well-respected horse barn at the foot of Lookout Mountain, not far into Georgia, and caught sight of four black men, silently watching me enter. When I got to their midst, I nodded my respect to each of the four, as I was taught from the very start in my life, before I said, “I’d like a word with Mr. Chaudion Womble.” ... (click for more)