Friday, August 28, 2009

Attorney Fees: Judges Immune from Suit for Decision Regarding Amount of Compensation to be Awarded to Appointed Counsel

Pursuant to New York County Law art. 18-b, §§ 722 and 722-a to 722-f, a municipality is required to compensate court-appointed counsel for providing representation to indigents in criminal cases and Family Court matters. The amount of compensation in each case is determined by the trial judge, subject to review by a supervising administrative judge for an abuse of discretion.

In Bliven v. Hunt the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled today that Family Court judges are immune from federal suit for the decisions they make regarding the compensation an appointed attorney is to receive for a particular case. The Court concluded that the determination of what is a reasonable fee in a particular case is not, for purposes of immunity, an administrative act. It is part of the judicial function to which immunity attaches. See decision here.


  1. That is not the issue in Bliven v Hunt.

    The issue is whether the Queens Family Court judiciary can manipulate Bliven's work product by docking his fees and whether that manipulation is actionable in federal court.

    Bliven represented indigent clients whose children were remanded into foster care. When Bliven moved to obtain discovery pursuant to CPLR 408, the trial judge denied him the request.

    The specific discovery Blien sought was the complete file from ACS and the Catholic foster care agency. Within that file were the family serviie progress notes, progress note cover sheets, drug tests and other data Bliven felt he needed to properly defend his indigent client.

    Instead of compelling the production of materials, the judges docked his pay.

    Hence, the judiciary's intent was to hush up Bliven so that the case could proceed unchallenged and the parents could remain in the dark. The child would be under Catholic control and no one would be able to determine what is going on with the child.

    The implication is that even assigned counsel has to toe the line in keeping parents unable to challenge the ACS and the foster care agencies.

    The federal court on the other hand has revealed that it does not discern an alarm being rung in Queens Family Court.

    Parents will now have to take matters into their own hands.