A Mere $50 To Sell-Out?

I don't hear it often, but every once in a while, I hear that age old accusation... public defenders get paid by the plea.

Sometimes I worry about the economy since that fee seems so stagnant. It's been $50 for a while now. What, we don't deserve a raise?

Sometimes I like to think about how much I could really make if I was paid $50 per plea. I think $50K sounds like a fair salary for a young public defender... so I would have to have a goal of 1,000 pleas a year. I think that I might have about 1,000 cases a year. So, I would have to take pleas on every single case. Maybe I'd even have to go out and make some business if I needed a little extra money? Would I have to set people up to get arrested? Steal my colleagues' clients and plea them out?

Is 1,000 pleas a year even feasible? Let's see, 365 days per year... minus about 52 weekends (2 days per weekend is 104 days) brings us to 261. Figure about 10 holidays per year is 251. Figure about 10 sick days per year is 241. And then lets say 2 weeks vacation, I like to take at least that much, leaves us at 227. That's about 4 pleas per day. Not to mention that I usually spend a few weeks on trial per year (and can't take any pleas during that time.)

Sometimes I wonder about other perks of the job and how they fit into this $50 per plea salary scale. Would that be $50 per plea PLUS health insurance or pension. Would taxes be taken out of that $50 per plea? I don't even know if I'd get paid holidays, vacation and sick days. Maybe that's due to the fact that so many of my clients have jobs where they are strictly paid per hour or per job with no other perks (prostitutes and drug dealers don't have a great HMO), so they probably don't know much about the perks of the professional world.

But what really got me thinking about the pay-per-plea scheme today is the fact that I just realized yesterday that I haven't taken a plea in just over one month. Nothing intentional, it has just worked that way. I took a few days off, I was on trial for a week, and things were slow around the courthouse the week of Thanksgiving. So I haven't taken any pleas.

And I started thinking, "Thank God I don't get paid per plea... I wouldn't have any money for Christmas shopping!"


  1. 10 sick days per year? You need to start taking vitamins and wash your hands more often.

  2. Working in a courtroom where thousadns of random people are being "processed" leads to a bit more exposure to whatever illness is going around.

  3. I remember years ago when I was assigned to a misdemenanor court, I easily had at least 1000 dispositions in one year. At the time, $50 a plea would have almost doubled my salary then. The nostalgia almost makes me misty-eyed...

  4. I use about 10. Sometimes I'll take a day when I go to the dentist and then use the rest of the day as a "mental health day," but that's pretty rare - maybe 1 a year.

    The other reason why I take so many is that a lot of my clients have HIV/AIDS - some full blown, so I can't see them when I have even a little bit of a cold or flu kind of feeling. Those days I either have to make an office day and not see clients (which is hard to do) or take the day off.

    And I did find that I started getting sick a LOT more when I took this job (I was never sick as a child or in college or law school) but a big part of it is being around so many sick people so much.

  5. it's like that here in some of the smaller towns.

  6. At least we aren't paid by the number of cases we win. Boy that'd suck and everyone would jump ship to the dark side.