Date of this Version
On May 18, 2005 the Nebraska Supreme Court adopted the following resolution: “The Minority and Justice Implementation Committee shall study indigency attorney fee structures statewide and report and make recommendations, if any, to the Supreme Court regarding indigency fees throughout the State of Nebraska.”
The Nebraska Supreme Court’s resolution was influenced by a certain county’s attempt to establish a flat fee for court appointed attorneys. The legal profession’s concern with this policy is that such a drastic rate reduction would likely encourage attorneys to spend less time on court appointed cases, and discourage more experienced attorneys from accepting court appointments in the first place, thereby reducing the overall quality of indigent defense provided in the state. This instance raised questions about the fairness of the current funding structures used across the state. In response, the Nebraska Supreme Court charged the Minority and Justice Implementation Committee1 with studying the fee structure system on a statewide basis. The Minority and Justice Implementation Committee appointed an ad-hoc “Standards Committee” to accomplish the resolution. The Standards Committee consists of representatives from the Minority and Justice Implementation Committee and the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, public defenders, criminal defense attorneys, and several County Commissioners.
The Standards Committee expanded its scope to assess fee structures, compensation procedures, appointment procedures, quality of representation, and additional issues related to indigent defense raised by Nebraska’s judges, defense attorneys and county commissioners. The scope was expanded because the Committee believed that recommendations concerning the fee structure of one system may inadvertently cause counties to switch to an alternate system of indigent defense. For example, if the fees for assigned counsel were raised, it may cause a county to solicit a low-bid contract for indigent defense. If guidelines were not in place to ensure the quality of indigent defense contracts, than the concern of providing quality indigent defense would simply be placed on a different system, rather than resolved.
The findings presented in this report, coupled with existing national guidelines for indigent defense systems, are the basis for the Committee’s recommendations regarding the qualifications, compensation, training, caseloads and workloads for each type of indigent defense system in Nebraska.