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The low rate of pay and recent changes in the payment-voucher system for court-appointed attorneys at the D.C. Court of Appeals may cause more experienced lawyers to leave for more lucrative work at the federal courthouse across the street, according to some attorneys who handle cases under the Criminal Justice Act. Both the Court of Appeals and D.C. Superior Court pay court-appointed attorneys $65 per hour, compared to $92 per hour at the federal courthouse. The $65 rate has remained the same since 2002, despite budget requests by the D.C. courts asking Congress to increase it to $90. The Court of Appeals also announced a change, effective Jan. 1, that limits interim voucher payments. If an attorney wants to be paid for hours that exceed the statutory limit of $3,600 for preparing a brief for a felony case, he cannot submit an interim voucher when the brief is filed and will have to wait until after arguments in the case to be paid. “We had too many moving pieces,” says chief deputy clerk Joy Chapper. “It was turning into a routine for someone to put in for the statutory max [in an interim voucher] and then turn around and ask for more.” One court-appointed attorney calls the maximum payment, which amounts to 55 hours of work, “totally unrealistic” and “impossible to do in a homicide or in another serious case.” Chief Judge Eric Washington can approve bills that exceed the statutory limit after reviewing a recommendation from the presiding judge in the case.
Brendan Smith can be contacted at [email protected].

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