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Westmoreland gives court-appointed lawyers a raise

| Friday, March 28, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Dozens of lawyers appointed to handle Westmoreland County court cases are getting raises.

County commissioners on Thursday approved a 33 percent increase in pay for court-appointed lawyers who work in family and criminal courts.

The raises were proposed by the court administration office, which said the $45-an-hour rate had not changed in more than a decade.

Court-appointed lawyers will now earn $60 an hour.

“The attorneys have been asking for this for several years,” said Court Administrator Paul Kuntz.

Lawyers are appointed by judges to handle cases when private attorneys are not retained. Appointments typically are made to represent children in custody, guardianship cases and adoptions.

Criminal lawyers for indigent defendants who can't be represented by the public defender's office will be appointed at the new hourly rate to handle post-sentence appeals and to represent defendants in murder cases.

The number of court-appointed lawyers was reduced last year when the county moved to a conflict counsel system in which 10 attorneys were hired at a $20,000 base salary to oversee 38 cases.

Officials said that plan saved county taxpayers $70,000 last year and was renewed for 2014.

The county paid court-appointed lawyers more than $368,000 in 2011 and $278,000 in 2012.

Kuntz said the change will cost taxpayers $200,000 a year.

Family court uses about 60 percent of the lawyers who are appointed by the courts, he said.

Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or rcholodofsky@tribweb.com.

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