California’s continuing $42 billion budget crisis has hit hundreds of private appellate lawyers who handle indigent criminal appeals in the state.

On Feb. 6, state Controller John Chiang began withholding an estimated $5 million in monthly claims submitted from court-appointed appellate counsel for compensation. The Controllers Office will delay payment by at least 30 days on lawyers’ pay claims sent to the Controller by the Administrative Office of the Courts after Jan. 29, according a spokesman for the AOC. It is not known exactly how many lawyers will be getting IOUs but there are 800 attorneys handling criminal appeals through various state projects around California and payment claims come in at a rate of four to six per day, the AOC reports.

As of mid-February the payment delays had no effect on lawyers who provide contract services for trial courts in dependency, delinquency or other cases, but that could change if there is no state budget approved by March 1, according to the AOC.

California faces a $42 billion budget shortfall over the next two years and Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger called the Democrat-controlled Legislature into special session three months ago to resolve the crisis, but to no avail.

Meanwhile, revenues are so depleted from job losses, property tax loses from foreclosures and the general economic slowdown that the controller delayed $1.9 billion in tax refunds to Californians, and the governor ordered state workers in the executive branch to take two days of unpaid leave every month, a 10% pay cut.

The staff for the state’s judiciary, one of the largest in the nation, has not been hit by the furloughs because judiciary employees are in an independent branch of government, outside the control of the governor.

Private appellate counsel affected by the pay delays are constitutionally mandated to continue representing their clients until a court approves a request to withdraw, according to the AOC.

The problem is that the lack of payment makes it difficult to attract new attorneys to participate in the indigent defense programs, according to a court spokesman.