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SACRAMENTO — Appointed appellate defense counsel are preparing for more hard times now that legislators have declined to sponsor a bill that would allow them to be paid during a budget impasse. Candace Hale, a member of the California Appellate Defense Counsel’s legislative team, said she feels like “a modern-day Sisyphus,” pushing a legislative boulder up a hill, only to have it roll back down. Although it’s still possible they will get a measure in a budget trailer, “I don’t think it’s very likely. But it’s the right thing to do, and it wouldn’t cost anybody anything,” Hale said. Appointed appellate defense lawyers have complained for years that they don’t get paid during a budget impasse. Their main court adversaries, state deputy attorneys general, continue to receive paychecks. But because they are independent contractors as opposed to state employees, appellate lawyers’ paychecks are frozen when legislators and the governor cannot agree on a budget. They eventually get back pay, but say the time in limbo severely hurts their bank accounts. The Administrative Office of the Courts sympathizes with their plight and points to their treatment as one of the main reasons why the pool of appointed attorneys has shrunk in recent years. Hale said her group approached four legislators: Sen. Denise Moreno Ducheny, D-San Diego, Senate President pro tem John Burton, Assembly Speaker Herb Wesson and Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley. The legislators declined sponsorship for a variety of reasons, Hale said, including a worry that other groups of vendors would want similar exemptions. Legislators also argued that removing a group from the mix would lessen pressure on Sacramento and only encourage more impasses, Hale said. But she doesn’t buy that: Appellate lawyers have hardly any clout in the capitol, she said. “They don’t think of us when they think of people not being paid,” Hale said. The situation may not be totally hopeless. The attorneys have a lobbyist who is testing the waters to see if a paragraph in a trailer bill is feasible, Hale said. That would allow them to get the change in time for this year’s impasse, which, like the crisis itself, is expected by many to be the worst ever. Otherwise, the soonest they’d be able to win the reform would be 2004. The AOC has said it is exploring getting the measure put into one of its regular spot bills for this year.

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