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Robert Heinlein was a truly brilliant writer and social commentator. One of his best observations was the TANSTAAFAL Principle -- "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch." Heinlein noted that NOTHING is free, that everything has its cost -- the only question is who pays for it, and what it costs. It's a social application of the First Law of Thermodynamics -- energy cannot be created or destroyed, but can only change form.

It's a widely-accepted principle of our justice system that every defendant is entitled to a lawyer, even if they can't afford one. But these are not "free" lawyers -- the state pays them. And since the state has no money of its own, but only that which it collects from the people, it means we all pay for those lawyers.

And what happens if the state decides to not pay those lawyers as much as they believe their time is worth? Fewer lawyers sign up with the program, and the state ends up with a huge backlog of cases because the accused have no legal representation. In some cases, the charges might even have to be dismissed because of the lack of lawyers.

Which is precisely what is happening in Massachusetts right now.

I don't have a solution to offer for this problem, but I certainly think it's a warning to other states -- and something that ought to be looked into before any other counties reach the crisis point.


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Comments (10)

It seems like everything Ma... (Below threshold)

It seems like everything Mass. touches crumbles to dust.

As a pre-emptive strike, an... (Below threshold)

As a pre-emptive strike, anyone here who wishes to question why we pay for public defendants in the first place is going to have to deal with the thorny little quesiton of the 6th Amendment: "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right... to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence."

You're blowing it, Massachusetts... short of a new amendment to the U.S. Constitution, you're going to have to pay what the market will bear.

That, or you have to require criminal defense attorneys to allocate either a fixed number or a fixed fraction of their billable hours to public defense work.

Set up a special tax on the... (Below threshold)

Set up a special tax on the lawyers profit on lawsuit settlements. This will also discourage frivolous lawsuits.

The lawyer drama that used ... (Below threshold)

The lawyer drama that used to play on ABC called “The Practice” was set in Boston. On that show, the judge was always looking out into the courtroom and telling one of the lawyers there that they now represented the accused, to which the lawyer immediately responded by offering all the reasons why they were much too busy with other cases to comply. This never made any difference to the judge.

I guess I took it as a matter of fact that judges actually do that sort of thing. Apparently the judges in Massachusetts don’t watch the same programs that I do. Oh would I love to see that sort of thing going down in a courtroom.

I am sure that this is just... (Below threshold)

I am sure that this is just a misunderstanding; these liberal trial lawyers and Democrats are doing it for the people. They would never be so crass as to whine about money.

I like thomas' idea.

Here's an idea -- lock up t... (Below threshold)

Here's an idea -- lock up the f*cking criminals and keep them there.

Then, lo and behold, crime drops. The need for criminal defense lawyers then drops. Problem solved.

(I say this as a former criminal defense lawyer.)

I don't know about Mass. ju... (Below threshold)

I don't know about Mass. judges, but the judges around here will appoint you in a heartbeat if you happen to be inside the courtroom. And they usually will not accept any excuse, other than a conflict of interest.

Phinn, you're absolutely correct....which is why I never practiced criminal law.

I tend to agree with Phinn.... (Below threshold)

I tend to agree with Phinn. Leave them there until lawyers are available to properly represent them. If "rights groups" objecct to this, point them at the lawyers for refusing public service. The resultant melee' could be rather interesting.

Of course, having the right... (Below threshold)

Of course, having the right to assistance of counsel need not translate into a right of STATE-FUNDED assistance of counsel. (damn you warren!)

You (theoretically) have a right to keep and bear arms--must the state buy you a gun?

Let me tell you how this is... (Below threshold)

Let me tell you how this is handled by many liberal states when the same situation happens in health care --- physicians are are assessed an EXTRA tax to pay for the health care of the indigent, then forced to accept a very low rate to provide that care (see Minnesota, New Mexico, W. Virginia); in some instances, the tax is on gross charges, not even income that an office sees. In Massachussetts, it is a condition to maintan a license that all physicians are required to accept Medicare (no matter if it does not cover overhead in some instances).

So, let's create "LegalCare." Fund it with extra taxes on the charges levied by attorneys in Massachussetts. Then require EVERY attorney to provide very cut rate legal advice for these defendants. I suspect the trials would be quite speedy.






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