Indigent defense in Massachusetts
More on indigent defense in Massachusetts

The other side of the Massachusetts story

[Editor's note: In response to this post, where I was critical of the Massachusetts bar counsel boycott, Ms. Deborah Sirotkin Butler sent me this thoughtful response, which, with her permission, I post in full.  I also suggest that you read Carolyn Elefant's take on fair fees in court-appointed cases here.]

Your analogy would hold if the so-called $74,000 - $115,000 were wages. It is not.  It is gross.  It is not take home pay.  A friend of my college student son's initially took the same position you did - and then I asked him: "Suppose - for that $37.50 - $ hour, before you took home one cent for your family, you, from that gross income, after waiting four to six months after  providing the services to be allowed to bill the Commonwealth, you first had to pay for:
1.  Malpractice insurance, yourself.
2.  Health insurance, 100% your self.
3.  Your fax, copier, printer, and all other equipment, 100% yourself.
4.  Your licensing fees (the BBO fee this year is $350.00 - no reduction for those who take cases at below-market rates).
5.  Your internet costs (you must have internet to bill), 100% yourself.
6.  Your phone, heat, light, cleaning, and every sheet of paper and printer/copier/fax cartridges, 100%, yourself.
7.  Either pay your staff's salary, benefits, into the unemployment security fund, health insurance, etc. 100% yourself - or have no staff and file every sheet of paper, answer every call, and do all maintenance (unbillable) and all billing (time unbillable) yourself - staff often nets more than court-appointed attorneys do.
8.  By the way, anyone with an office here is out $6000 - $12000 a year, even for a small one.

MY SON'S 20 YEAR OLD FRIEND SAID, "Never mind.  I do better at Burger King".

After what you term a generous $7.50 an hour raise (the first increase in the rates paid to independent contractors doing difficult work in 20 years - or about 30 cents an hour per year), when I take court-appointed work I net $6.00 to $10.00 an hour "take home" - or $240.00 to $400 a week actual earnings.

I am attaching my  written testimony  as supplied to the Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee in February of 2004, as to the kind of court-appointed work I do.  I have never done a criminal case, and do not plan to do so.  On my private work, I can earn a decent return - I only started taking a set number of state cases (reduced each year for the last 5 to stay out of bankruptcy). And, whether you do 5% appointments or 95%, and have done them for one year, or 25 years, the rate never changes - there is no benefit to continuing, no reward for good work or experience, no possible raise ever, and no punishment for poor work.

Also, if you go to and put "Sirotkin Butler" for the last name and "Deborah" for the first, you will get a bit of the flavor again or what I have done and do.

Download writtentestimony22704.doc

Download hkaffifinal052304.doc