MANSFIELD -- More than 30 north central Ohio defense attorneys have said they will not accept appointments to represent indigent clients until Richland County commissioners approve additional pay increases for the work.
That "boycott," which takes effect Tuesday, Oct. 15 will be the topic of discussion at a county commissioners meeting Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.
In August, commissioners agreed to increase the fees, effective Jan. 1. That marked the first such increase in almost two decades.
Commissioners voted unanimously to eliminate the current two-tiered system that now pays court-appointed attorneys $60 an hour for work done in the court and $50 for work performed outside the court.
That system, which has been in place for more than three decades, will be replaced with one that pays $60 per hour across the board for the legal work.
The decision comes after the state last month, in its new biennial budget, increased the amount of money it will reimburse counties for court-appointed attorney fees.
In the 2019 fiscal year, the state reimbursed counties $66.6 million, a number that will increase to $125.8 million in 2020 and $163.5 million in 2021.
In Richland County, that reimbursement percentage was around 46 percent in 2018, and it may increase to more than 70 percent in the new fiscal year that began July 1.
In March, representatives from the Richland County Bar Association asked commissioners to increase the rate to $75 per hour for work done in and out of court.
In a recent letter to all local courts, the 34 attorneys wrote:
"It has come to our attention that the Richland County Commissioners have failed to adopt the recommendations of the State Committee for court-appointed fees even though the legislature has passed a budget which will greatly increase reimbursement to Richland County," the letter read.
"Therefore, effective Oct. 15, 2019, we, the undersigned attorneys hereby remove our names from the court appointed lists for all felony, misdemeanor and juvenile cases both criminal and traffic.
"We will complete all cases assigned prior to Oct. 15, 2019, under the terms of the current agreement.
"Should the Richland County Commissioners adopt and enact a resolution adopting the recommendations in TOTAL the undersigned will remain on the court appointed lists at the new rate of $75 per hour and caps," the attorneys wrote in the letter.
In August, commissioners, while noting they understood the need for an increase, said they were choosing to proceed cautiously, promising to review the numbers in mid-year 2020.
Commissioner Marilyn John said at the time the increase will likely keep the costs to the county's general fund close to what it was in 2018.
"We will put it on our agenda in the mid-year review review in 2020 to see what it's doing to our percentages," John said.
During the August meeting, Vero provided a chart showing other counties in north central Ohio, including Ashland, Crawford, Knox and Huron, are still paying the two-tiered $60/$50 rates for court-appointed attorneys.
The document also showed the state average for court-appointed fees is $57 for in-court and $48 for out-of-court work.
Vero said Monday morning local judges have contacted out-of-county defense attorneys to do court-appointed work until the dispute is resolved. He also said two of the 34 attorneys who signed the letter have already rescinded their decisions.