Monday, September 13, 2004

Penny-wise Pound-foolish on CJA Voucher Approvals

I once complained to one of our judges --who is penny-wise and pound foolish regarding CJA voucher approvals-- that she was going overboard when she would not even compensate for attending to calls from some of my clients' relatives unless it was directly related to either obtaining documents, witnesses, or matters of bail, etc. In other words, if the guy's mom called to ask how the case was going, and that her baby had said such and such, I would not be able to invoice for that call. I told the judge that there was a simple solution to this: if I did not take mom's call, the client -who would end up doing whatever mom said was right- would opt for trial, and then she could compensate me for all the trial preparation and trial hours, etc. Another thing that might happen if I did not take mom's call is that her baby would file a pro se motion complaining about me, and create such a situation where the Judge might end up appointing substitute counsel, who would then have to get up to speed, and properly invoice for much of the work I had already done. Neither one of these is a very cost-effective alternative. I'm not certain the Judge has mended her ways, so I have to add a paragraph explaining this to every CJA Voucher cover letter in cases before her (obviously when it involves a defendant of the sort I have described). Of course, I would take mom's call anyway, even if the judge did not approve payment for this, but one should not have to go through all this explanation. If the Court does not trust the attorneys it has on the CJA Panel, it should remove them. I do not mean to say that they should blindly approve everything, but most attorneys I know usually have spent more time than they ever invoice in any particular case. I mean, can one invoice for all those moments one spends thinking about a case, even while shaving, having breakfast with your wife looking at you and asking "what are you thinking of"?

The same Judge wants counsel to include in the attachments to the CJA Voucher what each call or meeting with defendant concerned. Sometimes this is a no brainer, such as "reviewing discovery materials obtained on 10/20/04," or "reviewing presentence report," etc. I don't spend my days at the federal detention facility visiting clients. Many times when I go I may have a very important reason to meet with two clients, and I bring down a third just so he knows I have not forgotten him, even if I only have a very brief meeting with him. At times, when I go to meet a client, he asks about (or disputes) matters I have previously explained to him, but which he either failed to grasp, or simply can't or does not want to accept. Do I have to explain that I spent the time with client once more explaining to him that, yes, even though he was acquitted of the murder charges in a previous local case before the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico courts, the feds are now alleging that he committed said murder in furtherance of the instant drug trafficking conspiracy and that they can present all of the evidence in the instant case, even though (at least pre-Blakely) the jury will never have to pass upon whether he in fact had anything to do with the murder, but merely whether the conspiracy involved in excess of 5 kilograms of cocaine, and that if they find him guilty the judge can sentence him to life if he concludes that it is more likely than not that he in fact committed said murder? Maybe I could just state: "Explaining for the fourth time to client with common sense that the sentencing guidelines allow for a cross reference to murder guidelines. Client has found it difficult to grasp how he could have been acquitted of the murder charges and how they can use it to sentence him now."

Oh, well, maybe Booker and Fanfan will make my life easier.