Like many lawyers handling federal indigent defense cases, Wisconsin attorney Rob Ruth isn't in it for the money. His pay rate has climbed to $125 per hour over the years, but remains a fraction of what he would charge a private client and does little more than cover his overhead costs.

"As the rate has come up, it has helped retain better attorneys, and I think that for a lot of attorneys it has made it less of a loss to take a federal case," said Ruth, a Criminal Justice Act (CJA) panel attorney for about 20 years. "I don't have to take it on the chin so hard when I take a federal appointment."

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