Senate Bill No. 383
(By Senators Cookman, Stollings, Plymale and Palumbo)
[Introduced February 27, 2013; referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.]
A BILL to amend and reenact §29-21-9 and §29-21-20 of the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended, all relating to Public Defender Services; authorizing family court judges to appoint counsel in contempt cases when jail commitment is possible; and providing immunity to attorney appointed by family court judges.
Be it enacted by the Legislature of West Virginia:
That §29-21-9 and §29-21-20 of the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended, be amended and reenacted, all to read as follows:
ARTICLE 21. PUBLIC DEFENDER SERVICES.
§29-21-9. Panel attorneys.
(a) In each circuit of the state, the circuit court shall establish and maintain regional and local panels of private attorneys-at-law who are available to serve as counsel for eligible clients. An attorney-at-law may become a panel attorney and be enrolled on the regional or local panel, or both, to serve as counsel for eligible clients by informing the court. An agreement to accept cases generally or certain types of cases particularly may not prevent a panel attorney from declining an appointment in a specific case.
(b) In all cases where an attorney-at-law is required to be appointed for an eligible client, the appointment shall be made by the circuit judge: Provided, That in family court contempt cases, the family court judge shall appoint an attorney-at-law when required, in the following order of preference:
(1) In circuits where a public defender office is in operation, the judge shall appoint the public defender office unless an appointment is not appropriate due to a conflict of interest or unless the public defender corporation board of directors or the public defender, with the approval of the board, has notified the court that the existing caseload cannot be increased without jeopardizing the ability of defenders to provide effective representation;
(2) If the public defender office is not available for appointment, the court shall appoint one or more panel attorneys from the local panel;
(3) If there is no local panel attorney available, the judge shall appoint one or more panel attorneys from the regional panel;
(4) If there is no regional panel attorney available, the judge may appoint a public defender office from an adjoining circuit if such public defender office agrees to the appointment;
(5) If the adjoining public defender office does not accept the appointment, the judge may appoint a panel attorney from an adjoining circuit; or
(6) If a panel attorney from an adjoining circuit is unavailable, the judge may appoint a panel attorney from any circuit.
(c) In any given case, the appointing judge may alter the order in which attorneys are appointed if the case requires particular knowledge or experience on the part of the attorney to be appointed: Provided, That any time a court, in appointing counsel pursuant to the provisions of this section, alters the order of appointment as set forth herein, the order of appointment shall contain the court's reasons for doing so.
§29-21-20. Appointed counsel immune from liability.
Any attorney who provides legal representation under the provisions of this article under appointment by a circuit court, family court or by the Supreme Court of Appeals, and whose only compensation therefor is paid under the provisions of this article, shall be immune from liability arising from that representation in the same manner and to the same extent that prosecuting attorneys are immune from liability.
(NOTE: The purpose of this bill is to allow family court judges to appoint counsel for indigent litigants where contempt proceedings could result in jail commitment. This will bring West Virginia in compliance with a United Supreme Court decision.
Strike-throughs indicate language that would be stricken from the present law, and underscoring indicates new language that would be added.)
THE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE AMENDMENT
By striking out the title and substituting therefor a new title, to read as follows:
Eng. Senate Bill No. 383--A Bill to amend and reenact §29-21-9 and §29-21-20 of the Code of West Virginia, 1931, as amended, all relating to authorizing family court judges to appoint counsel in contempt cases when jail commitment is possible; and providing immunity to an attorney appointed by family court judges.