It bears noting, if only in passing, that the South Carolina Supreme Court (the same court, interestingly, which thought that denying David Lucas all economically viable use of his beachfront property in Lucas v. South Carolina Coastal Council was hunky dory) has held that when a lawyer is appointed to represent indigent criminal defendants, he is entitled to just compensation for the resulting taking of his property in the form of his time and labor, and even in some cases, for expenditures incurred in connection with handling such cases. The case is Brown v. Howard, No. 26991 (S.C. June 21, 2011).
This is an overdue decision. Maybe in the olden days a barefoot country lawyer could stroll down to the court house and do his share in providing legal representation to indigent criminal defendants. Though hardly de minimis, the economic burden of such representation was then comparatively modest. But given today’s economic burdens of running a law practice, it can get economically burdensome, and lawyers who undertake pro bono defense of people accused of murder or other serious crimes, can become de facto indentured servants for years on end. While the added economic burden thus placed on the criminal justice system by the requirement of appointed lawyer compensation is not to be sneezed at, it’s the same old story: the economic burden of such representation must fall somewhere, and it does not seem fair that it should fall only on defense lawyers, even as society demands that criminal defendants receive punctilliously fair and at times highly complex treatment by the criminal justice system. Once again, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch, and a society that insists on a high level of representaton for indigent as well as paying defendants, incurs a cost in doing so.
As you may suspect, this development in the law has already been covered by a number of blogs, so rather than repeat this stuff, we refer you to the blog of out esteemed colleague Robert Thomas who runs the inversecondemnation.com blog and who has already covered this bit of news, providing links to other blogs. Click here to get his take on this decision.