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Court-appointed fraud?

Some criminal defendants who have property and means for paying for a lawyer are getting away with a dodge – they ask for, and get, a court-appointed lawyer paid on the public dime, according to a news report by A.J. Lagoe, an investigative reporter with Channel 8 in Richmond.

Defendants fill out a form to declare what property they own. If they leave the assets section blank or fill in zeroes, there isn’t much follow-up or checking done.

The problem stems from the fact that, according to the Court-Appointed Guidelines and Procedures Manual, courts may investigate the circumstances of the case but aren’t required to do so. In an era of reduced resources, courts simply don’t have anyone to do that research.

The General Assembly may need to look at the issue next year, said Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond.

- Paul Fletcher

3 comments

  1. First, does it happen? Undoubtedly yes. Second, is it on “the public dime?” Only if they are found “not guilty” or the charge is otherwise dropped. Third, given the poor compensation Virginia provides, particularly for juvenile cases involving felony offenses if committed by an adult, the term “dime” is rather appropriate. Sadly, the real victim is often the court-appointed private attorney who otherwise might have been retained. If the Legislature truly understood how it works, they would probably encourage the fraud – another way to shaft the lawyers.

  2. Yeah, those poor people are really getting over on the system. Everyone knows that private lawyers will readily accept titles to fourteen year old cars, deeds to homes that are upside down on their mortgages, used musical instruments, electronics, and furniture.

    Maybe while the legislature is investigating this “widespread fraud”, they can create a new combined pawnbroker/attorney license.

    Of course if the Richmond media really wanted to encourage the government to save money, they would call for cuts to police budgets. As things stand now, most law enforcement efforts revolve around victimless crimes; a sure sign that there are cops with too much time on their hands.

  3. Another problem not addressed by the current procedure is that neither the defendant nor his attorney is under a duty to inform the court of a change in the defendant’s circumstances, which would make him ineligible for court-appointed counsel.

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