Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Cheap Justice

Imagine having a cheap lawyer. For a murder trial. Plenty of Philadelphians do.

That old maxim "you get what you pay for" is especially true in the judicial system where the "haves" hire top legal talent and the "have-nots" get court-appointed attorneys for as little as $2,000 for an entire murder trial.

Today's Inquirer editorial on the pathetic payments to court-appointed lawyers is important reading.Shoddy legal representation helps no one. A flat-fee system is flat-footed, seemingly penny wise while being justice stupid, especially in a state with the death penalty.

Pennsylvania has 194 people on death row. The most famous inmate on death row was cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal, the subject of a recent documentary and column who is now serving life without possibility of parole. That's s a far more humane and less costly solution to serious crime.

That's because Pennsylvania tends not to execute these people -- the last execution was in 1999 -- while dealing with a costly, exhaustive appeals process out of a Dickens novel but with higher stakes.

Last week, the Philadelphia-based Atlantic Center for Capital Representation asked Court of Common Pleas Senior Judge Benjamin Lerner to replace the counsel system with a rate of $90 an hour, still low but certainly likely to attract better lawyers to defend poor defendants.

Justice may not be swift, but it should be more equitable.

--Karen Heller