Tennessee Supreme Court making plea to lawmakers over indigent representation

Tennessee Supreme Court
(Photo: WKRN)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – The Tennessee Supreme Court is making a rare public plea.

The justices want change for the state’s system of paying lawyers who represent indigent clients.

They will be taking their case to state lawmakers after a task force organized by the court made a list of recommendations.

“We are worried in this state that we don’t pay these lawyers enough and that we don’t provide them enough resources to represent indigent criminal defendants,” said Justice Cornelia Clark in a recent interview with News2.

Justice Clark took an oath to uphold both the U.S.  and Tennessee Constitution and she said both say that those charged with crimes or facing the loss of various rights must have “fundamentally fair procedures” accorded them before they might lose those rights.

That goes to the heart of the indigent representation issue in Tennessee.

“In this state as in every state in this country, it has become more and more difficult to define and decide how to fund it,” said the justice.

The recommendations from the task force include upping lawyer rates from $40 an hour to $65 an hour.

It would be the first increase in nearly a quarter century.

The justices would like see the caps raised by $500 on the total amount paid to lawyers.

Reasons why are simple.

“Our state has grown in population. We have more crimes. We have more termination of parental rights cases coming through just by the nature of the number of people that we have,” added the justice.

The justices also expect to support legislation to create a statewide indigent representation commission.

It would address complaints– such as the long amount of time it sometimes takes for lawyers to get paid.