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WOULD $ 50, 000 PERSUADE YOU TO TAKE THIS HABEAS CASE? State lawmakers are trying to give appellate defense counsel one less reason to say no to representing the poor in capital cases. The Judicial Council is sponsoring a bill that would double to $50,000 the money available to cover investigative work in a habeas corpus proceeding involving an indigent defendant. AB 1248 has sailed through the Assembly with unanimous support from Democrats and Republicans. “It’s a big policy issue for the Supreme Court,” said Eraina Ortega, an advocate in the Administrative Office of the Courts’ capital office. “One of the issues that counsel raise is that the cost of investigating is so high that they take the risk that they’ll have to pay those costs out of their own fees.” California’s courts have struggled for years to attract and retain an adequate number of court-appointed attorneys in death penalty cases because of the relatively low pay, the high research and investigative costs, the lengthy time commitment required, the complex paperwork involved and the high stakes of the proceedings. The state gave appointed appellate defenders a small hourly pay hike last year but they still earn significantly less than most state prosecutors. David Goodwin, president of Capital Appellate Defense Counsel, a trade group representing more than 400 lawyers, said he had not seen AB 1248 and couldn’t comment on its specific provisions. But Goodwin said that it’s no secret some attorneys shy away from capital appeals because of the costs involved. “I know people who have taken habeas cases and are hesitant to take one again,” Goodwin said. “They end up paying costs out of their own pockets.” AB 1248 was awaiting a full vote of the Assembly on Monday.

Cheryl Miller

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