State V. Wigley

624 So.2d 425 (La. 1993)

Facts
Pennie Wigley and Robert Higginbotham were each charged with capital murder in two unrelated cases. Both of them were indigent. The trial judge appointed four lawyers to represent them, two to each case. Three of the four attorneys were civil practitioners with little criminal law experience. The attorneys asked the court to compensate them and reimburse their out-of-pocket expenses in connection with their representation of Mr. Wigley and Mr. Higginbotham. The judge denied their motions.

Constitutional Issue
In this case, the Court was asked to determine whether attorneys may be required to represent indigent defendants with no compensation or reimbursement of expenses. The Court recognized the professional obligation of attorneys to provide pro bono public service work, but also noted:

". . . requiring the appointed uncompensated attorneys ¤to bear the stenographic, secretarial, and out-of-pocket expense requiredË in connection with an assigned representation [] are, by now, outmoded, and no longer comport with the requirement that the burden placed on attorneys be ¤reasonableË and ¤not oppressive.Ë

The Court then found that requiring attorneys to represent indigents with no compensation or reimbursement of expenses, ¤when the attorneys must maintain their own practices and continue to meet their other professional and financial obligations . . . is so onerous that it constitutes an abusive extension of their professional obligations.

In its holding, the Court found that assigned counsel must be reimbursed for reasonable out-of-pocket expenses and overhead costs. The Court further found that attorney╠s fees need not necessarily be paid, ¤as long as the time the attorney must devote to cases for which he does not receive a fee does not reach unreasonable levels.Ë Finally, the Court acknowledged that the source of funds from which appointed counsel may be reimbursed were limited and directed the trial judges to make the initial determination, before counsel is appointed, that sufficient funds ¤to cover the anticipated expenses and overhead are likely to be available to reimburse counsel.Ë

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