Among those who could benefit most from the end-of-term legislation pending in Congress are attorneys who represent indigent criminal defendants in federal courts here and across the country. On Friday, House and Senate conferees were considering a bill that would double the pay for those lawyers.
Many lawyers in U.S. District Court here left after their brethren across the street in the D.C. Courthouse pried a big pay boost out of the city government, following a walkout last year.
The same, decade-old pay structure remained for the attorneys in federal court here and nationwide: $20 an hour for work out of court and $30 an hour for court appearances.
"In the private sector, attorneys with as much experience as I have wouldn't even consider working for $30 an hour," said Thomas Abbenante, a lawyer who has continued to practice criminal law in the federal court despite the low pay.
The measure doubling the fees, proposed by Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah), is expected to pass the test in conference. Another measure, submitted by Sen. Robert W. Kastenmeier (D-Wis.), would allow annual raises in fees to correspond with pay raises received by federal workers and would permit the court here to establish its own federal public defender service.