Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Indigent Representation and Risk Management

gavelA lawyer in Texas has been sentenced to 10 years in prison for fraudulent billing in court-appointed cases.

The attorney – who pocketed $600,000 over the course of four years and sped up the payment process by forging judges’ signatures on vouchers – was charged with 46 felony counts before accepting a plea deal.

Cases this egregious require no risk management commentary. Risk ipsa loquitor.

But the story does offer a good opportunity to review some details of indigent representation in North Carolina.

  • In August 2000, the General Assembly passed the Indigent Defense Services Act. This law created the Office of Indigent Defense Services and its 13-member governing commission.
  • Responsibilities of the IDS include overseeing legal representation to indigent defendants and others entitled to counsel across the state. The IDS also provides training programs for participating lawyers and develops standards to evaluate their performance.
  • The IDS is charged with “determining the most appropriate methods of delivering legal services to indigent persons in each judicial district” and “providing services in the most cost-effective manner possible.”
  • The IDS tries to recruit the best and brightest attorneys as advocates for indigent defendants. In the process, the agency strives to “eliminate the many recognized problems and conflicts caused by judges appointing and compensating defense attorneys.”
  • The rules governing indigent representation can be found on the IDS website here. They are also published in the North Carolina Rules of Court and the Annotated Rules of North Carolina.
  • The IDS Office works with the Office of the Capital Defender and Office of the Appellate Defender to recruit, compensate and evaluate attorneys for the statewide capital and appellate rosters. The IDS authorizes necessary expert services to aid these attorneys in capital cases.
  • The Office of the Juvenile Defender – which represents juveniles in delinquency proceedings - falls under the IDS umbrella. So does the statewide Parent Representation Coordinator, who oversees services provided to parent respondents in abuse/neglect/dependency and child support contempt cases.

Ethical Traps

Indigent representation is not a risk-free gig. Just ask the Texas lawyer.

Closer to home, here are some instructive State Bar disciplinary cases:

  • A North Carolina lawyer falsely modified the ending date and disposition date on a fee application after it had been signed by the presiding judge. The reworked application was then submitted for filing by the clerk and payment by IDS. (12 DHC 27 – suspension, stayed)
  • A North Carolina lawyer who had been appointed in a capital appellate case moved out of state without informing the court or opposing counsel of her new address and contact information. (04 G 1080 – censure)
  • A South Carolina lawyer was paid the statutory maximum $1,000 fee in a court-appointed case but failed to report that he had previously received additional funds from his client’s family. (IN re Archer – Public Reprimand)

Jay Reeves a/k/a The Risk Man is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Formerly he was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. Contact, phone 919-619-2441.

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About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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