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