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Clerk failing at ‘forthwith,’ lawyers allege

A Northern Virginia law firm is asking the Supreme Court of Virginia to order the clerk of the Fairfax County Juvenile & Domestic Relations Court to process a backlog of fee vouchers for court appointed lawyers.    Mike Arif and Matt Greene say their firm is owed more than $73,000 for legal work for the indigent, and they claim the clerk is not processing their paperwork so they can get paid.

A copy of their petition for mandamus is here .  The attorneys cite the code as requiring the clerk to forward the payment vouchers “forthwith,” noting the dictionary defines “forthwith” as “immediately.”

Arif and Greene say they’ve talked to a dozen or so firms that are waiting for $10,000 to $45,000 apiece in fees for court-appointed work in the Fairfax County J&D court.

Arif and Greene explain they don’t suspect any intentional wrongdoing; they say the clerk’s office is just understaffed and overwhelmed with the paperwork.  “It’s just a boatload of vouchers and invoices,” Arif said, adding, “That doesn’t excuse it, but it’s understandable.”

Arif and Greene say they have been contacted by counsel from the Office of Attorney General, which will represent clerk Jennifer Flanagan.  They say they hope the situation can be resolved.  An attorney general spokesman said the office does not comment on pending cases, but noted that defending clerks is among the statutory duties of the attorney general.

As noted by The Washington Post — in an article we featured in yesterday’s Daily Alert — the fees for court appointed lawyers are minimal, even when the paperwork is promptly processed.

UPDATE:

The complaining lawyers say they inadvertently overstated the amount of unpaid fees in arrears, and a spokesman for the clerk says there is another side to the story.

“We are still claiming that approximately 80 percent of the vouchers are still owed,” said Matt Greene, who advised Friday that he overlooked some paid vouchers when assembling his exhibit of unpaid bills.The underlying argument in our petition (that the vouchers need to be processed and sent to the Supreme Court) remains valid.”

Court Services Director Jim Dedes said the clerk’s office is investigating the allegedly unpaid vouchers.  “When it all comes out, there will be another side of the story,” he said.

The parties have agreed to an extension of the deadline for the clerk’s response, to Nov. 5.

By Peter Vieth

2 comments

  1. It’s no wonder our profession has among the highest rates of clinical depression. The unfortunate lawyers who agree to take on court-appointed cases in Northern Virginia have to be masochists. Not only are they abused by the clerks, prosecutors and judges, lied to by their clients who regard them as somehow inferior to privately retained counsel (which is grossly inaccurate), but now they have to sue to be paid the pittance the state has allocated to them. It is a shame because many of the court-appointed attorneys and the public defenders are well-experienced and do excellent work for a noble cause. The might heed the advice, “Just say no!” That may lead to an eventual solution to the court appointed crises in Virginia.

  2. I feel for Fairfax court appointed counsel, having been one myself for several years. As much as I enjoyed the work of representing juveniles, Fairfax J&DR was the slowest paying client I had. The ongoing payment problem with Fairfax , which greatly worsened in recent years, was a contributing factor in my decision to leave private practice. I miss Fairfax J&DR, I miss the kids, but I don’t miss the constant cash flow problem that Fairfax created. Good for Mr. Greene and Mr. Arif for bringing this problem to light. Good luck!

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