Sep
06

SPDs: Beware the New Con Job

I don’t recall how many years ago it was that I pulled the plug on my participation on the federal Criminal Justice Act panel, but I do recall the cause: The folks administering the program thought nothing of rejecting requests for payment over the most trifling of things. I threw in the towel at the third or fourth request for a revision of a request for payment after a lengthy trial. It made no sense for me to pay paralegals to chase pennies.
I’m now throwing in the towel on the state’s Special Public Defender program, and the cause is identical. After six months of dickering over an invoice I sent in after a murder trial I was asked to take in Norwich, I give up. I’ve determined the defenders are looking for a reason not to pay, so I am no longer looking to play in their sandbox.

We first submitted the bill for some $24,000 in mid-March of this year. The bill included travel to and from my office to the courthouse, pre-trials, trial time and expenses for subpoenas.

The first hurdle came in a notice that our request for payment was rejected. “We cannot process a PDF document.” We were asked to send an Excel spreadsheet. We also used the wrong form to request for an “legal services bills.”

My office manager sent the requested spreadsheet and amended form the next day via email.

The next hurdle came in the form of a request in early June to correct the “FY crossover.”

My office manager figured out what that was and sent the corrected sheets the next day via email.
 
We then sent an email to ascertain whether we had complied with the requirements, and I got the following gibberish in return:
“Per the terms of the agreement, Attorney Pattis must submit a billing inquiry form rather than email me directly.
“If the bill remains outstanding 45 days from the date of accurate submission, then you may fill out the billing inquiry form. This form provides information our staff will use to research the status of the payment.”
I was a little mystified by this one. So far as I know, I have no agreement with the Public Defenders Office. I was asked by the Public Defender in New London, Bruce Sturman, to take the case. So I did. I like the folks in New London. Even the prosecutors there are civil, even if a few them are, well, eccentric.
Then a new hurdle, some three months the bill was first sent. We need to send the forms back with a proper vendor number.
My office manager corrected the forms and resent the very day the request arrived.
Then the final straw, this almost four months after we submitted the first bill. We must now “add notice of appointment date and resubmit.”
Honestly, folks, I have no idea when I was appointed to handle this case. It is not as though I got a letter in the mail informing me of the appointment. I was asked to handle a case, so I did.  I have no idea what date I was asked to take the case. Is there no record in the office whose representative appointed me?
It was at this point I sent a note to Brian Carlow, one of the top dogs at the office. I told him we give up. I am done playing coo-chee-koo with pecksniffs who won’t answer a call, string me along, and always think of a reason to avoid paying a bill.
 
That was five weeks ago.
I mentioned this fiasco to another friend of mine. He reports that he, too, was stiffed on a bill for a case. His request for payment was rejected for failure to comply with a rule of some import, I suppose.
So I am done representing folks as a Special Public Defender. I will still represent indigent folks if New London calls. But
I’d rather do so on honest terms. If I am going to give my time away, I’d rather do so honestly, knowing what I am giving. Getting jerked around for months with cascading requests for this, that and the other thing feels a lot like getting conned.
Comments (2)
Posted on September 13, 2013 at 6:05 pm by Michael L. Moscowitz
SPD
The bottom line is that Hartford has absolutely no respect for the private bar. And John Day is in a position in which he has zero experience at and is paid over $120,000.00. His experience is 9 years juv public defender

Posted on September 7, 2013 at 11:15 am by Windypundit
Business as Usual
Norm, just keep plugging away at it. I spent almost 20 years working for companies that do government contracting, and this kind of thing is pretty normal.

My guess is that much of the problem is that you just jumped in and did the work. That's a great work ethic for a defense lawyer, but it confuses things for the staff. The process is supposed to follow a prescribed order, probably something like (1) apply to be an approved vendor, (2) get approved as a vendor, (3) the contract department solicits bids for the job, (4) you make a proposal for the job, (5) you win the proposal, (6) they issue you a contract, (7) you agree to the contract, (8) they issue you a purchase order, (9) you do the work, (10) you submit invoices, (11) they pay you.

You jumped in right at step 9, and now you're trying to do 10 and 11, but the state clerical staff has to go back and reconstruct the paperwork for the first 8 steps (or document the reasons for exemptions) You may have done what they told you to do, and they may do this for every SPD lawyer, but behind the scenes all of this has to happen. And since you've already done the work, they're in no hurry. (And you're right, in addition to being ordinary red tape, this is also a way to delay paying.)

I'm not sure how this fits with your kind of work, but the thing most government contractors learn to do is to make sure all of this is done up-front. Your point-of-contact, the person who actually wants you to do the job, will get very frustrated, but they know how this works, and they will have to live with it. If they need you really bad, they can walk it through the process pretty quickly. Your goal is to get a purchase order number (or whatever final document indicates that everything is in place for Accounts Payable to start sending you checks, because getting paid is the goal). Just stand fast and refuse to do any billable work until that happens.
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About Norm Pattis

Norm Pattis is a Connecticut based trial lawyer focused on high stakes criminal cases and civil right violations. He is a veteran of more than 100 jury trials, many resulting in acquittals for people charged with serious crimes, multi-million dollar civil rights and discrimination verdicts, and scores of cases favorably settled.

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I believe that the state is a necessary fiction and that failing to combat it is the first step toward tyranny.
– Norm Pattis

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Nothing in this blog should be considered legal advice about your case. You need a lawyer who understands the context of your life and situation. What are offered here are merely suggested lines of inquiry you may explore with your lawyer.

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