SAN ANTONIO – There is a pool of volunteer defense attorneys practicing law in Bexar County who are called court-appointed attorneys.
The lawyers are selected randomly through a process called “The Wheel.”
”I give the same effort, whether it’s court-appointed or retained,” said defense attorney James Oltersdorf when he was asked how, as a court-appointed attorney, he treats clients.
But Oltersdorf agreed with some court-appointed attorneys who said clients often question whether their lawyers are working hard enough on their case.
”I learned a long time ago that you don’t treat them any differently than you would somebody who came into your office and hired you,” said criminal defense attorney James Tocci.
There is a considerable compensation difference in court-appointed cases.
Lawyers are paid a flat fee per case and the pay is based on the seriousness of each case.
The pay for misdemeanor cases runs about $200, according to Local Administrative Judge Ron Rangel. Felony cases may go up to $750, and may include additional hourly fees.
Though Tocci said the compensation is not adequate, Oltersdorf said it is fair, and there is an upside -- payment is guaranteed.
”The fee schedule is fair”, Oltersdorf said. “You don’t have to worry about your client losing his job or his family not having to be able to pay for a trial.”
Court-appointed attorneys fees are paid by the Bexar County Commissioners Court as part of the annual county budget.