Iowa court-appointed attorneys continue to work, even without pa - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowa court-appointed attorneys continue to work, even without pay


Patricia Lipski works as an attorney, contracted by the state to represent low-income Iowans.

"I feel a real obligation to them," Lipski said.

As much as 80 percent of her case load is assigned to her by the courts.  These types of cases  normally pay half the rate compared to if an attorney was hired privately.

While lawmakers continue to struggle to find common ground on a budget, the indigent defense fund has dried up.

Lipski has now gone more than 50 days without a paycheck.

"We've had to apply for public assistance," Lipski said.  "It's embarrassing to admit that, but I've got to feed my kids, that's the bottom line."

Around 700 Iowa attorneys like Lipski continue to show up to work, even though they're not seeing a dime.

If a deal isn't worked out soon, the impact would be felt well beyond that of these court-appointed attorneys.

"It's an uphill struggle and at this point, there don't appear to be many avenues left," said John Morrissey, who served on the Board of Governors of the State Bar Association.

No pay means some of these attorneys would likely stop taking court-appointed cases.

Criminal cases could be held up or dismissed.  Juvenile cases may never be filed.

"If we all decide we can't do this anymore, those cases aren't going to get filed and kids are going to suffer, families are going to suffer," Lipski said. 

Taxpayers will also feel the burden, having to foot the bill for the interest the state owes to these employees.

Lipski and other lawyers say lawmakers need to make it a priority to restore the indigent defense funding.

Tim Albrecht, spokesman for Governor Terry Branstad's office, says the bill presented to the Governor earlier in the week, giving him the authority to transfer funds from other departments to the indigent defense fund, is financially irresponsible.  It's the reason why Governor Branstad vetoed the bill.

 "This is a budget practice that he came back to office to fix.  This is a budget practice that got us into this mess in the first place," Albrecht said.  "So the Governor wants to work with both the House and the Senate to find a workable solution."

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