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In Re Petition For Fees In: People v. Johnson

OPINION FILED FEBRUARY 24, 1981.

IN RE PETITION FOR FEES IN: THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF,

v.

DAVID "MICK" JOHNSON, DEFENDANT; THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, PLAINTIFF,

v.

JOHN L. DORRIS, DEFENDANT. — (R.C. LANTO, JR., ET AL., PETITIONERS-APPELLANTS,

v.

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, RESPONDENTS-APPELLEES.)



APPEAL from the Circuit Court of Champaign County; the Hon. HAROLD L. JENSEN, Judge, presiding.

MR. JUSTICE MILLS DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

"A lawyer's time is his stock in trade."

— A. Lincoln

We deal here with the troublesome question of fees for appointed counsel in criminal cases.

Attorney Paul R. Wilson, Jr., and attorney Reino Lanto were appointed by the circuit court of Champaign County to represent indigent defendants who had been charged with murder. When their duties to these indigent clients had been fulfilled, the attorneys filed verified petitions for fees. In this appeal, they challenge the reasonableness of the fees awarded to them by the court below.

We note that in addition to the briefs of the parties, the Illinois State Bar Association has also filed a brief as amicus curiae.

Paul Wilson was admitted to the practice of law in Illinois in 1974. He served as an Air Force attorney for four years, where he devoted the majority of his time to the practice of criminal law. He is now a partner in the Rantoul firm of Turnbow, Behnke and Wilson, P.C., and also serves as the public defender of Ford County. Seventy percent of his practice involves criminal matters. Wilson's firm charges an hourly rate of $75 and his share of the firm's overhead is $21.06 an hour.

In October 1979, Wilson was appointed to represent John Dorris. Dorris remained in jail while awaiting trial. During this time, Dorris' mother died and attorney Wilson filed for and was allowed an emergency hearing in an attempt to gain permission for Dorris to attend the funeral. Thereafter, a joint trial was had which lasted three days. Dorris was found not guilty of murder, attempted murder, and voluntary manslaughter, but guilty of involuntary manslaughter and aggravated battery. Research was done on sentencing issues. Wilson estimates he spent 220 hours out of court and 35 hours in court on this cause and considers $15,000 to be the lowest reasonable fee.

Reino Lanto was admitted to practice in this State in 1968. He served as a Champaign County Assistant State's Attorney and then served as an Air Force attorney from 1968 through 1974, specializing in criminal law. He was a military judge in the Air Force from 1972 through 1974. Lanto entered private practice in 1974 and is associated with the Rantoul firm of Waaler, Evans and Gordon. He spends 40 percent of his practice on criminal matters. He charges $55 to $60 per hour for legal services and his share of the office overhead amounts to $18 per hour.

Lanto was appointed to represent David Johnson in October 1979 and it was necessary for attorney Lanto to prepare for trial twice, the State having been granted an emergency continuance. Ultimately, the State dismissed the murder charge against Johnson. Lanto spent 155 hours out of court and 7 hours in court on this cause. He requested $9,454.50 as a reasonable fee.

The customary fee for the defense of a murder case in the Champaign County area is from $12,000 to $20,000, and the customary hourly rate charged by private practitioners is $60 per hour. In 1979, beginning associates in the area received between $12,000 and $21,999 for the first year of practice. The Champaign County public defender earns $34,050 per year and his expenses are paid by the county. At petitioners' request, the court took judicial notice of $60 per hour fees paid to special prosecutors in the county. A laborer testified that he earns $12.35 per hour, plus $1.75 per hour benefits, and receives double pay for overtime. He has no overhead expenses.

The trial court awarded Wilson $2,000 fees plus out-of-pocket expenses of $90. Lanto was awarded $1,200. We totally agree with petitioners that these awards are not reasonable.

The applicable statute — section 113-3(c) of the Criminal Code of Procedure of 1963 (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 38, par. 113-3(c)) — was amended effective December 28, 1979. These petitions were filed after the effective date and therefore the statute as amended is applicable to these awards. People v. Harflinger (1977), 45 Ill. App.3d 479, 359 N.E.2d 861.

• 1 The prior version of this statute authorized a reasonable fee for appointed counsel based upon a rate of compensation of $30 for each hour in court and $20 for each hour otherwise spent representing a defendant. However, awards were not to exceed $150 in misdemeanor cases and $1,000 in felony cases. An award in excess of the maximum was allowed in cases of extraordinary circumstances ...


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