CHARLESTON – A Charleston attorney has given notice to state officials that he is challenging the state’s guidelines that would cut the amount attorneys are paid for their time spent in court-appointed cases.
Anthony Majestro of Powell & Majestro sent notice on behalf of attorneys and law firms that take court-appointed cases.
Majestro will file a petition for a writ of mandamus with the West Virginia Supreme Court against the state’s Public Defender Services.
The petition will ask the court to stop the guidelines from taking effect Jan. 18 and also will argue that the current rate of pay is unconstitutionally low. The amount panel attorneys are paid for their time has not been raised since the 1990s.
In the notice, Majestro wrote that PDS fails to adequately and timely compensate panel attorneys for their time and expenses.
Under the emergency guidelines, attorneys will no longer be reimbursed for mileage and will be compensated $20 per hour for travel time. The time spent “waiting in court” has also been more narrowly defined.
Previously, attorneys received $45 per hour for travel time and 57 cents per mile in mileage reimbursement.
PDS Executive Director Dana Eddy informed attorneys who take court-appointed cases, of the emergency guidelines and stated that there was not enough money to reimburse attorneys who submitted vouchers after Sept. 16.
PDS will ask for an appropriation to cover the rest of the fiscal year.
Eddy said when they issued the emergency guidelines, they did so after deciding it was the fairest thing to do.
“We know it is not a good situation, but we are trying to make sure that attorneys still get paid something,” he said, saying it was equitable thing to do to keep paying vouchers. “This way when we go to the Legislature, we can show that we have done our best with the money that we had."
Eddy said the agency is trying to find a way to pay the attorneys in some way. He said the only thing that has been effected is travel, as this is the only “legal service” rate that the agency reduced.
“I’m aware that the rates are low for attorney work, but if you compare us to other states, we are in line,” Eddy said.
Eddy said the point is that the agency is doing its best to continue to pay attorneys in some way with what they have been given.
Majestro will file the petition on behalf of attorneys Michael Sharley, Christopher Watson Cooper, the Ciliberti Law Office and Hewitt & Salvatore, and the clients they represent.
State law requires notice be given to state agencies before a lawsuit is filed. Majestro sent the notice to state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Secretary of Administration Jason Pizatella and Eddy.