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Poor Defendants

August 02, 1994

The Times has done a disservice by printing as true and accurate the article by Charles Lindner "The Case for the Defense--If You're Poor and Charged With Murder" (Opinion, July 17).

It is hypocritical for Lindner to refer to his colleagues in the court-appointed Bar and in the public defender's office as "broken down Yugos." It is hypocritical because Lindner was a member of that very fleet until 18 months ago when he was refused admission to the court's new flat-fee panel.

Lindner's comments denigrate some of the finest lawyers in the U.S., both in the public defender's office and those in private practice who accept court appointments in capital cases. These lawyers are experts in this area. This group of lawyers has succeeded in limiting the number of death verdicts in the Central District to 10 in the last six years.

The change in the method of payment to attorneys representing indigent capital defendants was not unilaterally accomplished by judges but was instituted after two years of discussion and negotiation between the L.A. County Bar and the Superior Court.

Lindner writes that in the first year of the new policy there were as many death verdicts as there were in the previous six years combined. Only one flat-fee capital case has gone to penalty verdict since the new policy was instituted. In that case, the verdict was life without parole.

Your readers have been told that attorneys are paid a flat fee of $60,000 per case. In fact, each capital case is graded by degree of difficulty into four grades. The flat fees are as follows: $60,000, $90,000, $125,000 and $200,000-plus. The amount of expense money granted for the hiring of experts and others is hinged to the grade of the case and given to the lawyer to spend as he or she sees fit.

It is blatantly untrue that "lawyers have had their pay cut each time they won a motion, causing a direct conflict of interest with their clients." Only one type of motion could result in a reduction of the flat fee and that is a successful motion to dismiss the special circumstances. This is because the case could no longer be a capital case or that the case would be terminated.

GERALD L. CHALEFF

GIGI GORDON

Santa Monica

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