Well, if we move this discussion to the Alabama state government, we’re not really talking about harming the lawyers. In fact, we’re not talking about all of them, either.
However, it is no secret that on the Alabama GOP’s enemy list, right behind Paul Hubbert and the Alabama Education Association, are trial lawyers.
The emphasis on trial lawyers is neither accidental nor unimportant. Corporate lawyers, those who defend corporations, are good guys, the argument goes. The lawyers who go to trial on behalf of people who have a beef with corporations, those are the ones whose wings the GOP wishes to clip.
Now that Republicans control both houses of the Alabama Legislature, the clipping has begun. And in a fashion all too familiar in this state, it’s the poor who may pay the price.
So the GOP are going after trial lawyers who defend the indigent.
(In fairness, it should be noted that some Democrats joined this effort; however, the initiative and overwhelming support came from the GOP.)
To bring this about, the state Legislature passed a bill that creates an Office of Indigent Defense Services — yes, another level of bureaucracy — to oversee indigent defense procedures and billing. According to the bill’s supporters, this will prevent trial lawyers from “abusing” the system.
In addition, the bill would limit the pay of lawyers who defend the indigent to a flat rate of $70 an hour. It also will allow them to charge the state only for actual court expenses.
Sen. Cam Ward, R-Alabaster, who sponsored the legislation, said this would save the state approximately $24 million a year.
In times like these, savings are welcomed. And people who are unemployed or underemployed will have trouble generating much sympathy for someone who makes $70 an hour, no matter what a lawyer makes in the “real world” in which he or she represents clients who can adequately pay for their services.
However, no one seems to be concerned about the impact this will have on people who need defending and can’t afford it.
The bill now waits for the governor to sign, which no doubt he will. Trial lawyers will suffer the consequences.
So, too, will Alabama’s poor.