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High court won’t reimburse court-appointed lawyers for printing

Court-appointed criminal lawyers in Virginia are feeling a new pinch – the Supreme Court will no longer pay for printing services for their appeal petitions.

The change coming next month apparently is designed to save money – the court already has had to limit fees for court appointed attorneys – and to urge lawyers to make use of the rules that allow stapling in place of binding.

A May 1 memorandum from Supreme Court Clerk Patricia Harrington states that – effective July 1 – the court will not reimburse vendors’ charges to print, copy, bind and serve petitions for appeal and various other pleadings. The other pleadings are briefs in opposition, reply briefs (at the petition stage), petitions for rehearing, petitions for a writ of habeas corpus, petitions for a writ of mandamus, petitions for a writ of prohibition, petitions for a writ of actual innocence and motions.

Professional brief printers provide more than just sharp-looking bindings on petitions for appeal, defense lawyers say. Brief printers also offer a final check for compliance with the courts’ detailed rules for appellate briefs.

The rules include specifications about fonts, margins and word counts, among other details.

David L. Heilberg of Charlottesville said brief printers do more than just copy what the lawyers write. “They assure that everything is correct in accordance with these rules that most practitioners can’t keep up with in their daily routines,” he said.

David M. Lee of Williamsburg, chair of the Virginia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said lawyers have come to rely on the printers’ expertise. “With all the arcane formatting rules, attorneys who only file appeals on rare occasions – such as me – are going to be tripping all over themselves trying to master an area (print production) that we used to be able to subcontract out to experts,” Lee said.

Lee said the result is likely to be more petitions dismissed for rule infractions. “Sadly, more and more administrative functions are being piled on top of already underpaid court-appointed counsel,” he said.

Heilberg said briefs that are merely stapled, not professionally bound, will be a red flag that an appeal is being handled by court-appointed counsel. While that is not supposed to matter, he said, “Justice is only theoretically blind.”

Heilberg added court-appointed lawyers will have to spend more time to make sure their briefs are compliant with the rules, so their fee requests may increase.

Tony Lantagne with Lantagne Legal Printing said his company is looking for ways to keep serving court-appointed counsel on their petitions for appeal, despite the reimbursement cutoff. He said a reduced fee might be possible. “I’m not sure how it’s all going to pan out,” he said.

The change is “not a big deal” for public defenders, said David J. Johnson, executive director of the Virginia Indigent Defense Commission. Johnson said public defender offices prepare petitions for appeal in house.

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