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Defender Services – Annual Report 2017

A fair and impartial criminal justice system requires that all defendants have access to legal representation and other defense services. The Judiciary protects the Sixth Amendment right to counsel and the rights provided under the Criminal Justice Act through the work of dedicated federal defenders and panel attorneys.

Criminal Justice Act Program Review

The Committee to Study the Criminal Justice Act Program (CJA) finished its comprehensive review of the CJA program in November 2017 and sent its findings and recommendations to the Judicial Conference. Six of the policy-making body’s standing committees will review and comment on the report before it is taken up by the Judicial Conference in 2018. 

The two-year study, which began in April 2015, was the first comprehensive look at the federal public defense system in over 20 years. The ad hoc committee was made up of federal judges, defense attorneys, a federal court employee, a former federal prosecutor, and a law professor.

The ad hoc committee, established by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and chaired by Judge Kathleen Cardone of the Texas Western District, held seven public hearings — in Santa Fe, NM; Miami, FL; Portland, OR; Birmingham, AL; San Francisco, CA; Philadelphia, PA; and Minneapolis, MN. Gavel-to-gavel video coverage of the hearings expanded their reach to a wide audience on the committee’s public website,, which also houses a complete archive of transcripts and submissions. During approximately 100 hours of public hearings, the committee heard from more than 230 witnesses representing a wide array of stakeholders, including federal judges, federal defenders, CJA panel attorneys, former federal defender clients, state court judges and defenders, U.S. attorneys, professors, and nonprofit groups and other legal organizations.

The committee also surveyed nearly 10,000 panel attorneys, eliciting responses from more than half of them. Committee members attended and spoke with participants at trainings and conferences across the country, including the 2016 Federal Defender Conference, the 2016 Panel Attorney District Representatives Conference, and CJA panel attorneys’ seminars. In addition, the committee consulted with members of the Defender Services Committee, the Defender Services Advisory Group, the Death Penalty Working Group, and Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) staff.

Training for Federal Defenders and CJA Panel Attorneys

In 2017, the AO held or provided assistance with numerous training events for CJA panel attorneys and federal defender attorneys, paralegals, and investigators. The programs included national, local, and webinar events and provided substantive legal training on criminal law and procedure and skills-based workshops on trial practice, electronic case management, legal writing, and sentencing mitigation. Attendees also received training on administrative and managerial issues. New programs and webinars were added in fiscal year 2017, and attendance increased by about 30 percent over fiscal year 2016.

Workshop participants practice breaking down the facts of a case during a trial skills workshop held at the California Western School of Law in San Diego

Workshop participants practice breaking down the facts of a case during a trial skills workshop at the California Western School of Law in San Diego.

Pay Adjustment for Panel Attorneys

Panel attorneys got a needed boost in rates as part of the annual appropriations approved by Congress. The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2017 provided a 1 percent Employment Cost Index (ECI) adjustment to the non-capital and capital panel attorney hourly rates (to $130 and $185, respectively), consistent with the adjustment for federal workers. Capital panel attorneys are retained by the Judiciary to work on death-penalty cases. The ECI is the way the government measures increases in pay for civilian federal workers indexed to wage and salary increases in the private sector. The act included an hourly $2 above-inflation increase for non-capital panel attorneys, resulting in a new rate of $132 per hour for work performed on or after May 5, 2017.