Judges have discretion in appointing attorneys

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 4, 2015

The presiding judge selects attorneys to defend felony cases when defendants can’t afford to hire a lawyer, Covington County Circuit Judge Ashley McKathan explained.

The selection process for judges starts with a list of available attorneys to handle indigent defenses.

McKathan said the process is statutory.

“There is an indigent defense organization they have to send their bills to,” McKathan said. “It’s all on computer. They have to e-file their fee declarations. When they file them, they pop up on a column on the Ala-Court system that the judges can see.”

McKathan said he doesn’t know how other judges select their court-appointed attorneys, but locally, they tend to do it in “clumps.”

“I tend to select from the bottom up — the oldest in and the first one out, per say,” he said.

Once judges approve the fee declarations, they they are transmitted electronically to a state agency, which issues payment.

McKathan said the judges have the final say on a bill from a lawyer.

“Our function is to look at a bill and make sure it is within reason,” he said.

There is a list of 16 local attorneys from which McKathan and other judges can appoint to provide indigent defense in in Covington County. There are approximately 55 members of the local Bar Association.