|Volume Number: 29
Category(s): STATE AGENCIES
|Opinion Issued April 16, 2012|
|DAVID R. KARR JR.|
|WEST VIRGINIA PUBLIC DEFENDER SERVICES|
Claimant appeared pro se.
L.Wayne Williams, Assistant Attorney General, for Respondent.
| PER CURIAM:
Claimant, David R. Karr Jr., an Attorney at Law duly licensed in the State of West Virginia, brought this action for $20,851.89 in unpaid legal fees. Respondent is the agency responsible for paying vouchers for legal services provided by appointed attorneys but denied Claimant’s right to receive compensation in this instance. The Court believes that this claim should be granted, in part, and denied, in part, for the reasons more fully stated below.
This claim involves twelve (12) vouchers for legal services provided by the Claimant encompassing a period of fifteen years. It was deduced at hearing that the vouchers can be separated into two batches for ease of reference.
The first batch contains one voucher and involves representation throughout the mid to late 1990's of a client named “Webster.” The last date of legal services for this representation was July 11, 2000. Claimant testified that he then submitted this voucher to now retired Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge A. Andrew MacQueen seeking that court’s approval before submitting it to Respondent for payment. Claimant maintains that he was unable to obtain approval from Judge MacQueen because the voucher’s were lost after submission to the court. Claimant attempted on numerous occasions to locate the submitted voucher after learning of Judge MacQueen’s retirement but to no avail. Approximately nine years later, Claimant found a copy of the voucher and submitted it directly to Respondent for payment–hoping to conform to the statutory time limit.
Batch two was submitted contemporaneously with batch one and contained numerous vouchers for representations made between the dates of August 3, 2006 and January 20, 2009. Only three vouchers were paid by Respondent, because Respondent determined the remaining vouchers to be more than ninety days old.
Respondent argues that Claimant is not entitled to receive payment for any of the vouchers submitted, because they were submitted after the statutory time period. Nevertheless, Claimant maintains that he should be paid for all of the vouchers because he was not aware of any changes to the time limitation. Also, specific to batch one, Claimant argues that he should not be penalized for an error on the part of the circuit court.
The West Virginia Code created payment procedures for “panel attorneys” and allowed the executive director to establish submission guidelines. The statute expressly states time limitations for the submission of vouchers. W. Va. Code § 29-21-13a(a) states that
claims for fees and expense reimbursements shall be submitted to the appointing court on forms approved by the executive director. The executive director shall establish guidelines for the submission of vouchers and claims for fees and expense reimbursements under this section. Claims submitted more than ninety calendar days after the last date of service shall be rejected, unless for good cause, the appointing court authorizes in writing an extension: Provided, That claims where the last date of service occurred prior to the first day of July, two thousand eight, shall be rejected unless submitted prior to the first day of January, two thousand nine.
This language was added by a 2008 amendment to this code section.
In the instant case, Claimant argues that batch one involving client Webster should be paid, because the Kanawha County Circuit Court lost the voucher that he submitted for approval. The statute states that “[c]laims submitted more than ninety calendar days after the last date of service shall be rejected, unless for good cause . . . .” § 29-21-12a(a) (emphasis added). The Court is of the opinion that when an attorney submits a voucher for approval to a judge as prescribed in the statute, and the voucher subsequently becomes lost through no fault of the attorney, there exists “good cause” to toll the ninety day time period.
In reviewing the record as it pertains to batch two, the Claimant argues that he was not aware of the statutory amendments of 2008, which changed the time period for submitting vouchers from four years to ninety days. The Court is not persuaded by this argument. While a laymen may find “ignorance of law” to be a arguable defense in some cases of equity and garner some sympathy among jurists, a licensed attorney does not enjoy the same latitude. The statute is written for all to see, and it clearly states that a claim must be submitted within ninety days of the last date of service. Claimant did not submit the vouchers claim to Respondent until well after January 1, 2009. Submissions were untimely and must be denied.
Based on the foregoing, the Court is of the opinion to allow an award to the Claimant for services rendered on behalf of client Webster and deny an award for the remaining unpaid vouchers based on the statutory time limit.
Award of $9,888.50.