Salary | Compensation

Gideon Alert: Iowa S.Ct. finds rigid flat-fee contracts “substantially undermine” right to counsel

BY David Carroll on Wednesday, December 1, 2010 at 3:30 PM

The Iowa Supreme Court handed down a unanimous decision in Simmons v. State Public Defender, No. 07-0870 (Iowa Nov. 24, 2010), finding that a rigid fee cap of $1,500 per appellate case would “substantially undermine the right of indigents to effective assistance of counsel.”  The Court explained that “inadequate compensation will restrict the pool of attorneys willing to represent indigent defendants” and that “the low level of compensation threatens the quality of indigent representation because of the perverse economic incentives introduced into the criminal justice system. … Low compensation pits a lawyer’s economic interest … against the interest of the client.”  Reasoning that the fee caps at issue in the case would have a “profound chilling effect” on the right to counsel and that the legislature intended to uphold the right to counsel, the Court held that Iowa rules imposing a hard-fee cap are unenforceable.