Changes in attorney fees schedule likely in 2019

The Marion County Commission on Monday approved allocating an additional $50,000 for attorney fees in the juvenile court system, at the request of Judge Rachel Bringer Shepherd.

Shepherd told the commissioners that she anticipated the juvenile court would be billed for approximately $50,000 more than is currently budgeted. As of Monday's meeting in the county courthouse in Palmyra, $104,166 had been spent of the $148,074 budgeted for the current fiscal year.

Shepherd said an increased caseload is partially the cause. She added that more attorneys are "doing significantly more work on cases than we have had in the past."

Shepherd said that the rising number of youngsters needing help from the juvenile court system is driven by substance abuse.

"If we could have a countywide reduction in the use of heroin, methamphetamine and other intoxicants, we would have a countywide reduction in kids needing care," Shepherd said.

The two commissioners in attendance, Lyndon Bode, presiding commissioner, and Steve Begley, Western District commissioner, supported the additional funding.

"It's got to be paid and taken care of," Bode said, adding that the bulk of the money would come from the "miscellaneous" fund.

"We've got to pay our bills and a (financial) commitment was made for this year," Begley said. "But I would like to see some trimming done for next year."

Shepherd appreciated the additional funding. "I'm just so thankful for how much the commission supports the juvenile court system and recognizes the importance of it."

Shepherd said consideration is already being given to changing the fee schedule in 2019. One possibility is decreasing the payment rate which is currently $85 per hour. Limiting the billing per case is another option, with additional hours being submitted to the Missouri Bar Association as pro bono work. A system that bases the hourly fee on the service the attorney is providing is also being considered.

"There is going to be change regardless of what you all budget (next year)," Shepherd said.

danny.henley@courierpost.com