Private attorneys who take on public defender cases would be paid more, under a bill proposed at the Capitol.
The current hourly rate set by the state is $40 for private attorneys who take on a public defense case. State Representative Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) says it's appalling that the rate has only seen a mild increase in the last 30 years, since being initially set at $35.
Kessler is sponsoring legislation that would raise the hourly rate to $70. Even if it's approved, Deb Smith with the State Public Defender's Office says the rate falls short of where it should be. Indexing for inflation, she says the rate would have grown to $118 by 2007.
State Representative Bill Kramer (R-Waukesha) says the current rate is still a lot of money, adding up to nearly $80,000 a year. However, supporters say the pay has to cover expenses, and pales in comparison to an average hourly rate of $188 for a private attorney.
Smith says the current low rate also discourages experienced attorneys from taking on public defender cases, resulting in many low-income clients being denied an adequate defense.