News & Resources

Indigent clause leads to increase in collections

Dec 30, 2011 Mike Garretson

A recent change in Pima County, Arizona's, court-appointed attorney process has resulted in more than $500,000 in unpaid debt, the Arizona Daily Star reports. In 2009, Pima officials ruled that if misdemeanor defendants were unable to provide documentation proving they were indigent - unable to pay for a lawyer themselves - they would be required to pay $350 for counsel. The process works, according to Pima's Office of Court Appointed Counsel, by inputting a potentially indigent defendant's income information into a computer, which then determines eligibility. The rule was enacted after a Daily Star report found only about 1 percent of requests for a public lawyer had been turned down in the past. "It's a good policy," recently retired assistant county manager Lindy Funkhouser told the news source. "It makes them think about whether they really need a lawyer and how they are going to go about paying for one." However, the downside to enacting the new policy is that many defendants don't actually end up paying. According to the county's Justice Court records, nearly $1.7 million in attorney fees have been assessed since fiscal year 2008-09, with just under $670,000 collected. County administrator Chuck Huckelberry said this behavior has led the county to receive help from collections on many debts.