The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has rejected the petition of eight court appointed counsel who allege the First Judicial District’s fee system underpays them.
The order from the Supreme Court on May 15 did not state a reason. The FJD opposed the petition.
One of the petitioners, Gary Sanford Server, said in a text message that, while they were disappointed by the court’s decision and would have liked to see a reason provided by the justices for rejecting their petition, “the purpose of the petition was to try to let  the court understand what we experience in dependency and delinquency court, to let themknow how loyal to the FJD we are by being court-appointed attorneys. Fundamentally,we want to be considered part of the team and part of the process in the orderly administrationof justice.”
Further, Server wrote that he and his seven fellow petitioners are frustrated and that waswhy they asked for the Supreme Court’s help. “Maybe the court will try to help us in a different way,” Server said. “Maybe the court wants us to make the request in a different way.”
Karen Deanna Williams, Mingo Stroeber, Server, Jennifer A. Santiago, Jason Greshes, Joseph A. Canuso, Joseph Q. Mirarchi and Charles O’Connell III filed a petition March14 requesting the Supreme Court to exercise its King’s Bench jurisdiction and to issue a writ of mandamus ordering the Philadelphia court system to empanel a committee toreview the “adequacy and equitableness of compensation paid to court-appointed counsel.”
The lawyers argued the FJD promised to set up a committee made up of both lawyers and judges to periodically review court appointed counsel compensation under the Guaranteed Fee System. They say the promise was made in a 1997 directive from the FJD’s Administrative Governing Board, which is made up of the president and administrative judges from the FJD’s three courts.
The lawyers also said in their petition that “counsel fees have been … reduced becausemore work is being required while compensation remains at the rate set more than 10 years ago for decidedly less work,” such as that dependency practitioners must appearevery 90 days for reviews of their clients’ cases.
The FJD’s counsel, A. Taylor Williams and Geri Romanello St. Joseph with the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, argued in their response that the attorneys do not have standing because the 1997 directive is not a contract. “Petitioners’ obligations as court appointed counsel arise not from any contractual obligation,but from their duties as officers of the court who accept court-ordered appointments,” they wrote.
The attorneys have contracts for each of their appointments because each appointment Involves an offer, acceptance, performance and consideration, Server argued.
The attorneys have standing because state law governs public defenders, and conflictcounsel are also governed by that law, Server said. State law says that courts have the power to appoint counsel, including setting their fee scale, while counties are payors alone, he said.
The parties also have standing because the traditional notion of standing involves people who are directly, substantially and immediately aggrieved by an issue, Server argued.
The AOPC also argued that the city of Philadelphia is a necessary party for the proposed mandamus because the city, not the FJD, has the financial responsibility for funding counsel appointed to represent people who are entitled to legal representation but are too poor to afford private lawyers.
The AGB ordered last year that counsel fees be paid by the city directly, not by the court, and that the budget line item for counsel fees should be housed with the executive branch, not the judicial branch. After Mayor Michael A. Nutter’s administration took over the direct funding of appointments in cases in which the Defender Association of Philadelphia has conflicts, the city put out a request for proposal for private law firms to handle the conflict counsel firm. That process is still pending.
While the FJD argued that the lawyers’ petition is intended to derail the RFP process, Server said that the RFP is not within the purview of the petition, even though his co-plaintiffs and his counsel have concerns about lawyers who would want to bypass the court’s authority to appoint counsel.