Attorneys to address payments

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 25, 2008

Show them the money.

Some members of the Lawrence County Bar Association plan to meet with the Lawrence County Commission in the near future to discuss outstanding bills owed for handling indigent clients.

Several attorneys who handle criminal cases by court appointment said they have not been paid since the first of the year and are owed thousands of dollars. Others said they have gotten some payment from the county since the first of the year, but are still owed thousands of dollars.

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By law, if a person is accused of a crime but does not have the money to hire a lawyer, legal counsel is appointed for them and the fees are paid out of the Lawrence County general fund. Because the general fund is short on funds, some bills are simply not getting paid.

“We’re going to meet with the commission and try to iron out some of our problems,” bar association president Mark McCown said.

Attorney D.L. McWhorter was owed more than $13,000 at one point earlier this year, but recently received a payment from the county for nearly that amount.

“I understand the county has problems but we’ve been pretty patient,” McWhorter said. “I don’t know what the other attorneys got. It puts a crimp in things for a while. Luckily we do a bunch of other stuff but there are some attorneys where (indigent work) is most of what they do.”

McWhorter said he was considering whether he should refuse to handle indigent felony cases and take only misdemeanor criminal cases that require less work and, therefore, less money.

David Reid Dillon said he got a check from the county earlier this week — the same day he was attending the bar association meeting and discussing what to do about not being paid. But he said the county still owes him approximately $15,000 and some of that is for work he performed last year.

He said last year’s work probably comprises the bulk of what the county owes him.

“This is as bad as it’s ever been, from last year to the present,” he said.

Lawrence County Commissioners said Thursday that action they took during their commission meeting should help alleviate some of the backlog of bills to lawyers. It asked other officeholders to send bills in on a monthly basis, instead of hoarding invoices for fear there is no money to pay them, and to refrain from sending in blanket purchase orders for a year’s worth of goods or services before such money is needed. In this way, they can get a more accurate picture of how much money they have on hand to pay outstanding debts.

Indigent defense fees cost the county $339,066.18 last year, according to figures from the Lawrence County Auditor’s Office.