Many Public Defenders Getting Compensated Less Than Minimum Wage

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Indiana Public Media on 077/13/2020 by Brandon Smith

Many attorneys doing public defender work do so under contract with counties – meaning they get paid a flat amount, regardless of the number of hours they work. And that’s the primary method of public defense in about a third of Indiana. (WFIU/WTIU News file)

Many lawyers in Indiana doing public defender work earn less than minimum wage, after accounting for overhead costs.

That’s from a survey by the Indiana Public Defender Commission covering more than 200 attorneys.

Many attorneys doing public defender work do so under contract with counties – meaning they get paid a flat amount, regardless of the number of hours they work. And that’s the primary method of public defense in about one-third of Indiana.

Those attorneys have significant overhead costs that public defenders who are employees of the counties don’t have, staffing and office space the most significant.

And when taking into account those overhead costs, the Public Defender Commission’s survey says contract attorneys earn less than $6 per hour.

Commission senior staff attorney Derrick Mason said as a result, many of those lawyers have to take on a lot of private clients too, just to cover their costs.

“Who is being punished? The clients that don’t get to choose their lawyer but have a constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel,” Mason said.

Mason says potential solutions include counties covering those overhead costs, increasing compensation, or paying hourly rates rather than flat contract fees.