Arbitrary and Capricious links to a story from Seattle where a contract public defender took it upon himself to handle 413 felony cases in 2003 and had a gross intake of $255,000 from indigent defense in 2002.
I'm not sure if the 413 refers to the number of people defended or the actual number of felony charges (many defendants have multiple charges). Still, let's put that in perspective:
Virginia pays $507 per felony ($112 for the prelim and $395 for the trial). For serious felonies (possible 20+ years) Virginia pays $1,208 ($112 for the prelim and $1096 for the trial). Most courts I work in have terms of court which are two months long and each term I have - at the outside - 10 people whose felony charges are handled in circuit court and maybe 15 more for whom I'm able to take care of the case in the district court;1 if I wrap something up in district court the felony only pays $395 because it was reduced to a misdemeanor and there was no prelim. Let's assume an average of two charges per Defendant. That means each term I'm defending 25 people with 50 charges. Over a year that's 150 people with 300 charges. Assuming that 20% of those which went to circuit court were serious felonies (which are never settled in district court) I think I'd gross about $74,000 in a year. I'd have to do over three times the amount of business in order to get near what this guy took in: 450 people with 900 felony charges.
I could do that. I'd just have to give up little things like sleep, sanity, etc.
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1 Actually, these numbers probably represent about twice the norm.