STANTON – The last time attorneys received a raise for handling Montcalm County’s Juvenile / Probate Court cases, Ronald Reagan was president and George HW Bush was elected to succeed. The first computer virus was released, and the final Dodge Aries and Plymouth Reliant were produced by Chrysler.
1988 was the year lawyers began making $ 50 an hour for handling abuse and neglect cases in juvenile / probate courts. You haven’t received a raise in 32 years.
These court-appointed attorneys will eventually receive a raise that brings their salary to $ 80 an hour after the Montcalm County Board of Commissioners took action on Monday at the request of Juvenile / Probate Justice Judge Charles Simon III’s apparent action, after Michigan state required counties to set up their own defense department. The attorneys working on these needy defense cases now earn up to twice as much as the juvenile / probate court attorneys.
“It has become clear that if they can walk 40 feet down the hall (to the Public Defender Office) and get $ 100 to $ 120 an hour, Montcalm County’s attorneys won’t work for $ 50 an hour,” Simon told the commissioners at the county board meeting on Monday. “It’s been the same rate since 1988 and should have been increased gradually years ago. You are ready to serve for $ 80 an hour. They are not greedy in my opinion. This rate is very standard. You could insist on $ 100 or $ 120 and we’d really be in a fix. “
The judge estimates that the hourly rate increase will cost the county from $ 50,000 to $ 85,000 per year, which will come from the county’s general fund.
Although Montcalm County Commissioner Adam Petersen of the Montcalm Township suggested a flat-rate option for attorneys at the county finance and personnel committee meeting earlier this month, Simon explained why that option would not work in his court’s cases.
“For me, a flat rate option is the worst thing that could come of it, as our cases are mostly neglect and abuse cases (involving children) and they last a year and a half to two years,” said Simon. “It would just be very, very difficult to try and come up with an adjusted rate or a flat rate to solve any problems that would come my way and give the lawyers a fair rate. In all honesty, I don’t think it would be really fair to the people they represent. Such persons are entitled to legal representation in these matters under the Michigan Constitution and the law. They (the legal proceedings) can result in people’s parental rights being terminated, and that’s a pretty serious thing. If we don’t have adequate legal representation, we can’t move on. “
Edmore Commissioner Phil Kohn asked the judge if he was ready to come up with a proposed pay raise schedule sometime this summer when the county board begins work on the budget for next year so that another three decades don’t go by without a raise.
“I would, and indeed I think that would be very appropriate,” replied Simon.