Lawyers appointed to represent federal defendants who can't afford an attorney sometimes have trouble securing expert witnesses, wading through voluminous e-discovery and persuading judges to approve their expenses, according to testimony at a public hearing Monday and Tuesday in Miami.***
The Criminal Justice Act, which provides a system for compensating those attorneys, is under a two-year review by a committee appointed by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts. The committee's stop at the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. U.S. Courthouse was the second of seven hearings in cities from Portland, Oregon, to Philadelphia.
Attorneys and judges from across the Southeastern U.S. testified at the hearing, including the Southern District of Florida's Federal Public Defender Michael Caruso, U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer and U.S. District Judges Robert Scola Jr., Donald Graham and Kathleen Williams.
The committee questioned the witnesses on whether the authority to approve CJA panel attorney compensation should rest with the judiciary, the public defender's office or an independent body. The group also discussed the challenges of e-discovery.
But regardless of their independence, CJA panel attorneys have far fewer resources than federal defenders and the U.S. attorney's office, lawyers testified.Judge Graham was really strong on this point saying that prosecutors should be required to hand over hot documents to defense lawyers as a matter of proportionality and basic fairness. Seems like a no-brainer.
That inequality extends to discovery, which in a multidefendant case can amount to three terabytes of data — or 6,000 filing cabinets of documents, Caruso said.
"You can imagine the CJA lawyer who's a solo practitioner trying to make sense of 6,000 filing cabinets," particularly in a trial-heavy and fast-paced district like the Southern District of Florida, he said.