Although there are issues that still require attention, the amendments approved by the supreme court to the “Regulations for the Assignment of Public Defender Lawyers”, addresses the main reservations that the country’s robed class had raised since before the document entered into force in January 2020.
This was recognized by the president of the Bar Association, Manuel Quilichini. “The issues what are left are issues important. I can’t tell you if they are critical or not, but I am confident that we will be able to reach satisfactory agreements for all the parties involved”indicated the lawyer in an interview with El Nuevo Día.
Quilichini explained that the amendments announced by the highest judicial forum in the country mainly address the area of ”voluntariness”. “Many lawyers say: ‘I don’t want to work for free or for low compensation’ and what the Supreme Court did was create two categories, voluntary service and involuntary service,” he explained.
Following the approved changes, attorneys who decide to join the voluntary registry of public defenders will receive compensation of $80 from the first hour of service on the assigned case. Meanwhile, those who decide not to enroll in the registry will receive a pay of $60 per hour from the moment they complete 30 hours of free service.
“In that sense, it is a stimulus for people to volunteer and it is a substantial stimulus,” he said.
In the meantime, in order to expedite the processing of the payment process, the requirement of sworn in requests for certification of hours worked and requests for reimbursement of expenses was eliminated.
In addition, the provisions on relief for just cause were amended, the enumeration of which is stated to be non-exhaustive, including establishing a maximum of three ex officio allowances per fiscal year for those lawyers whose ex officio allowances have required the provision, in addition , of more than 50 hours of service according to the regulations.
The reason for exclusion from the ex officio lawyers bank for reasons of age, previously set at 70 years, was also extended to lawyers aged 68s. “The Court is looking for a way to encourage participation in pro bono service and eliminate the objection that I don’t want to work for free. The numbers they have put go towards that,” Quilichini said.
“It is very positive for lawyers because there are lawyers who are not financially in the best position and with this offer of $80 you kill two birds with one stone, because you provide pro bono services and, at the same time, the lawyer has a respectable source of income. ”he added.
At the end of 2019, the Bar Association filed a lawsuit in the Federal Court of Puerto Rico challenging the constitutional validity of the document. Among the arguments raised was that the regulation required lawyers to offer free legal representation in cases of a civil and criminal nature.
Then, the court ordered a mediation process, which has been sustained for these years, Quilichini said. The hearing of the case in its background is scheduled for next March. “While the ax comes and goes we have been negotiating. I cannot go into detail because the judge’s order was that the process be kept confidential, but what I can tell you is that there has been a lot of progress with respect to different areas of the regulation, ”he said.
If there is an agreement in all the areas under discussion before March of next year, the controversy will become academic. “We are hopeful that we will reach an agreement and that this controversy ends,” he said.