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State Budget Woes Preventing Court-Appointed Lawyers From Getting Paid

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DURHAM, N.C. — Court-appointed lawyers in North Carolina are not getting paid because of the state's budget problems. In the long run, that could mean poor defendants do not get the representation they deserve.

Attorney Tucker Charns, who is now assisting Timothy Blackwell in his second DWI trial, has not been paid. He is one of more than 1,000 statewide who are due money. However, judges, prosecutors and public defenders are still being paid. Charns said the situation is unfair.

"The government has a constitutional duty to give everyone charged with a crime an attorney who can't afford an attorney, and that is absolutely outrageous," Charns said.

Private attorneys average $65 an hour for indigent work. The overdue bills are stacking up, raising concerns about fairness in the court room.

"The people who go into those courts hoping that there will be equal representation and representation, I think, have reason to be concerned," said Tye Hunter of the Office Of Indigent Defense Services.

Hunter said he hopes the state will pay the lawyers in July. Charns said he will continue to defend the poor, but he said everyone should pay attention to this situation.

"If you want people to be prosecuted and you want people to be arrested and convicted and incarcerated, they're going to have to have a lawyer there," Charns said.

The incident over attorneys' fees began last year when attorneys were given a 10 percent pay cut. Gov. Mike Easley ordered all state agencies to reduce budgets by four percent to help with the state's budget problems.

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