How JAC impacts the Florida Death Penalty: Indigent Defense Legal Fees
For over 40 years, Florida’s Justice Administrative Commission (“JAC”) has provided administrative support to the state judicial branch. Among its managerial tasks is overseeing the payment of court-appointed lawyers who represent defendants unable to afford counsel (indigent defendants). In 2004, JAC was first given the job of reviewing and approving invoices of private attorneys who had been appointed by the courts to represent indigent defendants.
In 2013, JAC begin its registry for attorneys appointed by the courts in Capital Collateral cases as well as undertaking the task of both contracting with and paying private court-appointed lawyers in their representations in the capital collateral cases. Florida Capital Collateral cases involve death penalty appeals.
JAC is made up of two State Attorneys and two Public Defenders. These are appointees; the prosecutors are appointed by the President of the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, and the defense attorneys are appointed by the President of the Florida Public Defender Association.
Terry Lenamon’s Case against Justice Administrative Commission
In 2009, Terry Lenamon sued JAC over interim compensation and costs in a death penalty defense case out of Lee County. While his arguments were persuasive at the trial level, and recognized as both fair and reasonable by the appellate court, he was limited to the stated legal rate for death penalty defense in the State of Florida ($100/hour at the time). Just. Admin. Comm’n v. Lenamon, 19 So.3d 1158 (Fla. 2d DCA 2009)( quoting Florida Statutes § 27.5304(12)(d)(2007)).
Notes the appellate court:
“Mr. Lenamon also argues that the $125 per hour rate was fair and reasonable in light of the exceptional circumstances present in this case. We do not doubt that the $125 per hour rate approved in the circuit court’s order is fair and reasonable. However, the question before us is whether payment at a rate exceeding $100 per hour is authorized by law, not whether it is fair and reasonable.”
This case has served as precedent in future matters dealing with indigent defense representation and the need for prompt and proper payment of indigent defense fees and costs.
Point to Ponder: how indigent defense lawyers in Florida capital cases must meet the need for zealous representation of defendants fighting against the death penalty while coping with the financial realities of small hourly rates and staggered payments.
For more, read:
- Lenamon Files Motions to Continue Trials: JAC Fiscal Shortfall and Paying for Indigent Death Penalty Defense
- Fletcher v. JAC: April 2013 Attorneys Fee Opinion from the First District Court of Appeals in Florida
- Who is the JAC? What is JAC vs. Lenamon? Should You Care?
- The Death Penalty Indigent Defense Crisis: Representing the Poor when the State wants to Kill Them and it’s Paying Your Bill