State lawmakers continue to snub court appointed attorneys

BOSTON (WWLP) - Could you go two months without a paycheck?  The 22News I-Team reveals why that's become the norm for a group of state-funded lawyers.

On Tuesday, state lawmakers approved a $26 million supplemental budget. Most of that money goes to lawyers who were owed back pay from the state. It's a problem that seems to happen every year.

"It's really outrageous that they do this year after year," said David Hoose, President Hampden County Lawyers for Justice.

Year after year, the state doesn't put enough money in their budget to pay court appointed attorneys on time. Then when the fiscal year ends, they approve a supplemental budget, reimbursing these lawyers for back pay. These are court appointed attorneys, independent contractors, not employees of the state.

Attorney Kari Nykorchuk is a court appointed attorney, they represent the poorest clients. She told the I-Team, it's not out of the norm to go six weeks to 2 months without a paycheck.

"The answer we get is look the state is short of money this year, but I look at the legislature getting huge raises... and i can't justify that," said Attorney Nykorchuk.

Since Lawyers know the state has a poor track record of paying on time at the end of the fiscal year. It can create a backlog, people just waiting for an attorney to pickup their case.

"Yes we do have a problem. It's really hard to call someone up and say hey we've got this really tough case will you take it on, when they haven't been paid for the last month," said Attorney Hoose.

State lawmakers on Tuesday agreed to a supplemental budget to reimburse the attorneys for back pay. Lawmakers could simply add more money into this line item in their budget.

"We know we have a revenue problem in Massachusetts, right now projections aren't coming into reality as expected," said State Rep. Carlos Gonzalez, (D) Springfield.

Rep. Gonzalez understands that the poor need this representation in court and says he will fight for them. But lawmakers just approved the same amount of money for court appointed lawyers as they did last fiscal year, so expect this problem to circle back again next June.

The budget for the Committee for Public Counsel Services has more than doubled in the last ten years. Attorney Nykorchuk sais that court appointed attorney's are handling more cases than they ever did before and the opiod crisis plays a major role in this.

 

 

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