I don't recall how many years ago it was that I pulled the plug on my participation on the federal Criminal Justice Act panel, but I do recall the cause: The folks administering the program thought nothing of rejecting requests for payment over the most trifling of things. I threw in the towel at the third or fourth request for a revision of a request for payment after a lengthy trial. It made no sense for me to pay paralegals to chase pennies.
I'm now throwing in the towel on the state's Special Public Defender program, and the cause is identical. After six months of dickering over an invoice I sent in after a murder trial I was asked to take in Norwich, I give up. I've determined the defenders are looking for a reason not to pay, so I am no longer looking to play in their sandbox.
We first submitted the bill for some $24,000 in mid-March of this year. The bill included travel to and from my office to the courthouse, pre-trials, trial time and expenses for subpoenas.
The first hurdle came in a notice that our request for payment was rejected. "We cannot process a PDF document." We were asked to send an Excel spreadsheet. We also used the wrong form to request "legal services bills."
My office manager sent the requested spreadsheet and amended form the next day via email.
The next hurdle came in the form of a request in early June to correct the "FY crossover."
My office manager figured out what that was and sent the corrected sheets the next day via email.
We then sent an email to ascertain whether we had complied with the requirements, and I got the following gibberish in return: "Per the terms of the agreement, Attorney Pattis must submit a billing inquiry form rather than email me directly. If the bill remains outstanding 45 days from the date of accurate submission, then you may fill out the billing inquiry form. This form provides information our staff will use to research the status of the payment."
I was a little mystified by this one. So far as I know, I have no agreement with the Public Defenders Office. I was asked by the public defender in New London, Bruce Sturman, to take the case. So I did. I like the folks in New London. Even the prosecutors there are civil, even if a few them are, well, eccentric.
Then a new hurdle, some three months after the bill was first sent. We need to send the forms back with a proper vendor number.
My office manager corrected the forms and resent the very day the request arrived.
Then the final straw, this almost four months after we submitted the first bill. We must now "add notice of appointment date and resubmit."
Honestly, folks, I have no idea when I was appointed to handle this case. It is not as though I got a letter in the mail informing me of the appointment. I was asked to handle a case, so I did. I have no idea what date I was asked to take the case. Is there no record in the office whose representative appointed me?
It was at this point I sent a note to Brian Carlow, one of the top dogs at the office. I told him we give up. I am done playing coo-chee-koo with pecksniffs who won't answer a call, string me along, and always think of a reason to avoid paying a bill.
That was five weeks ago.
I mentioned this fiasco to another friend of mine. He reports that he, too, was stiffed on a bill for a case. His request for payment was rejected for failure to comply with a rule of some import, I suppose.
So I am done representing folks as a Special Public Defender. I will still represent indigent folks if New London calls. But I'd rather do so on honest terms. If I am going to give my time away, I'd rather do so honestly, knowing what I am giving. Getting jerked around for months with cascading requests for this, that and the other thing feels a lot like getting conned.•