The Executive Committee of the Tennessee Judicial Conference, which represents all state judges, recently sent a letter to Governor Bill Lee, Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally, House Speaker Cameron Sexton and members of the Tennessee General Assembly to increase funding for indigent representation in the state. The text of the letter is below:
Additional funding is needed for attorneys appointed to represent indigent litigants. I write on behalf of the Executive Committee of the Tennessee Judicial Conference in support of the Supreme Court's request to increase the hourly rate of compensation for appointed counsel to $80 per hour.
The federal and state Constitutions mandate that criminal defendants be provided representation at all stages of criminal proceedings, as well as in some civil proceedings. While Public Defenders shoulder much of that work, conflicts arise that necessitate the appointment of private counsel. The current hourly rate is so low that it does not provide private counsel adequate financial incentive to help the State meet its mandate. Consequently, judges find themselves visiting the same wells only to find them drier each time.
When discussing concerns about crime, we must also consider impediments to efficiently moving cases, and the lack of available, competent legal representation is necessarily a part of that discussion. Better compensation paid to appointed attorneys would help counsel take on more appointed cases. We ask you to support increased funding for indigent representation, not only to comply with the Constitutional and statutory rights of those entitled to appointed counsel, but to help protect Tennesseans.
Thank you for your service to our great State.