Lawmakers to raise pay for defending indigent clients in Iowa courts

DES MOINES — The Iowa legislature is poised to raise the pay for attorneys who represent indigent defendants by $5 an hour. The state budget plan GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate have agreed to will — for the first time — provide $35 dollars an hour for travel time, as some attorneys drive hours driving around Iowa to court hearings.

Jim Carney, a lobbyist for the Iowa Bar Association, calls these moves unprecedented and historic. “It’s the best thing that’s happened since about 1986 when the state assumed the responsibility of funding indigent defense,” Carney said, “so thank you, thank you.”

According to the Iowa Supreme Court’s chief justice, only 600 Iowa attorneys are willing to be appointed to represent indigent clients because of the pay and it’s leading to trial delays. Representative Brian Lohse, a Republican from Bondurant, said he’s been hoping to address the issue since he joined the legislature five years ago.

“Hearing the issue from the chief justice, from her address in January, I think really shed a light on that,” Lohse said. “Various members heard a lot from their home districts in regard to the need for and the crisis that’s really out there.”

Lohse leads the House panel that’s drafted the budget plan for Iowa’s justice system.