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Death row inmates provided counsel

September 21, 2007

Re "Don't rush to execution," Opinion, Aug. 16

In this article, Erwin Chemerinsky left readers with the impression that California does not pay for counsel for defendants in habeas corpus proceedings following a judgment of death.

The truth is that California has long been a leader in providing competent counsel for defendants on death row. The California Supreme Court has established qualifications for appointed counsel in death penalty matters that are more stringent than those recommended by the American Bar Assn. California consistently has provided counsel not only on appeal, as is constitutionally required, but in collateral habeas corpus proceedings, which is not required. Not only does California ultimately ensure counsel for all death row inmates, it pays private counsel at one of the highest, if not the highest, rates of any state court: now $145 an hour.

The California Supreme Court has engaged in continuing discussions with the executive and legislative branches to improve the method and amounts of payments to counsel. Some defendants still do not have lawyers, solely because of the difficulty of finding qualified private counsel willing to provide representation, and the inability of the state-funded agencies, the office of state public defender and the Habeas Corpus Research Center to absorb additional cases. These are problems for which the Supreme Court will continue to pursue solutions.

Frederick K. Ohlrich

Court administrator and

clerk of the Supreme Court

San Francisco

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