At some point in 2018, the Puerto Rico Supreme Court adopted a set of rules for the assignment of cases to court appointed attorneys (“Reglamento para la Asignación de Abogados y Abogadas de Oficio de Puerto Rico “) which is set to come into effect on January 1st, 2020.
According to this new system, some lawyers in private practice in Puerto Rico are obligated to be available to provide legal services to clients in both civil and criminal cases when appointed to do so. The first 30 hours of service must be provided free of charge. Thereafter, lawyers will be paid at the rate of $30.00 per hour for out of court work and $60.00 per hour for in court or appellate work. These fees, however, are not to be recovered from a line item in the government’s budget and it is unclear as to whether the government will be able to generate the money to pay them.
In anticipation to the implementation of the new regulation, the Puerto Rico Bar Association (El Colegio de Abogados y Abogadas de Puerto Rico (CAAPR)) has filed a complaint and request for injunction in Federal District Court alleging that the regulation is unconstitutional.
Among other things, the complaint argues that the regulation exempts or excludes broad categories of attorneys from having to provide free legal services including lawyers in public service and those that provide ad honorem services for the judicial branch.
In addition, the complaint argues that forcing only some lawyers to provide legal services for free or for such low rates of compensation that are not enough to cover overhead expenses constitutes deprivation of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, and a violation of the equal protection of the law.
You can read the complaint here.