That's the title of an editorial in today's Miami Herald. It's subtitled, "Judge right to reject law that raids courts’ budgets."
We depend on the court system to dispense justice — period. Not justice on a budget, not justice on the cheap, not justice with “ka-ching” in the back of a judge’s mind.
Nor should justice be denied because the funds simply aren’t there.
So applaud the decision of Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Victoria Sigler to reject a state law that ties the legal bills for defending indigent clients facing the death penalty to state judges’ annual budgets. It’s a violation of the state Constitution, she ruled.
In March, state lawmakers sought to curtail the expenses of a pool of private attorneys appointed to represent death-penalty defendants too poor to pay for legal assistance.
The attorneys are paid a fixed — and low — rate, which will entice few truly seasoned lawyers. Senate Bill 1960 mandated that payment of any overruns, which used to come from state revenue, now would come from the courts’ budgets. That’s not an insignificant expense. Miami-Dade County, for instance, has paid more than $700,000 of its $1.2 million allotted by the state for such legal bills.
But the law also crosses the line that separates the judiciary and the state Legislature, which, according to Judge Sigler, is supposed to allocate all the funds for indigent clients. There should be no onus on a judge, charged with impartiality in interpreting and carrying out the laws of the state, to count pennies — not that any would. Still, as private attorney David S. Markus told The Miami Herald, the law “makes judges think twice about paying a lawyer, knowing that he or she has to also think about paying his secretary or buying copier paper.”
Gov. Rick Scott’s appeal-prone administration is likely to challenge Judge Sigler’s ruling. That would be unfortunate and costly — and it would do little to serve the cause of dispensing justice in the state.
Earlier coverage of the ruling on Florida's indigent defense funding begins at the link.
The ruling in Florida v. Martin is available in Adobe .pdf format.