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United States v. Mukhtaar

May 21, 2008

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v.
ABDULHAKEEM MUKHTAAR, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shirley Wohl Kram, U.S.D.J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on the request of Martin J. Siegel ("Siegel"), attorney for defendant Abdulhakeem Mukhtaar ("Mukhtaar"), for compensation in excess of the statutory maximum imposed by the Criminal Justice Act of 1964 (the "CJA"). In CJA Voucher No. 080416000285, after adjustments made by the Clerk of Court, Siegel requests compensation in the amount of $8,690.80 in attorney's fees. As required by 18 U.S.C. § 3006A(d)(3) and this Circuit's Revised Plan for Furnishing Representation Pursuant to the Criminal Justice Act (the "Revised Plan"), the Court has reviewed Siegel's itemized hourly worksheets and written justifications for compensation in excess of the statutory maximum. Upon review of these documents, however, the Court concludes that such excess compensation is not warranted in this case, and instead certifies compensation in the amount of $6,478.40.

I. BACKGROUND

On February 1, 2006, Mukhtaar pleaded guilty under a plea agreement to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, one count of bank fraud, one count of treasury check theft, two counts of access device fraud, and one count of fraud with identification documents. See United States v. Mukhtaar, 06 Cr. 31 (SWK), Dkt. No. 23 (accepting guilty plea previously entered before magistrate judge). Mukhtaar was released on a personal recognizance bond pending sentencing. During his release, Mukhtaar cooperated with the Government in an ongoing investigation, with the expectation that he would testify during future trials. In June 2007, however, the Government notified the Court that Mukhtaar had violated the terms of his plea agreement by committing similar, fraud-related crimes, and had thereby forfeited the benefits of his cooperation agreement.

Siegel was appointed as Mukhtaar's CJA counsel on September 27, 2007, after the previously appointed defense counsel withdrew due to a conflict of interest. Siegel thus represented Mukhtaar during the sentencing phase of his case. Sentencing was adjourned several times, once at the request of the Government, see United States v. Mukhtaar, 06 Cr. 31 (SWK), Dkt. No. 27, and twice at the request of defense counsel, United States v. Mukhtaar, 06 Cr. 31 (SWK), Dkt. Nos. 26, 28. The parties appeared before the Court on March 5, 2008, for sentencing. At that time, however, the Court concluded that a further adjournment was necessary, in order to provide defense counsel additional time to review with Mukhtaar the written submission that the Government had filed only two days earlier. Tr. 10, March 5, 2008. The Court also ordered additional written submissions from both sides. See United States v. Mukhtaar, 06 Cr. 31 (SWK), Dkt. No. 29. Ultimately, Mukhtaar was sentenced on April 9, 2008. United States v. Mukhtaar, 06 Cr. 31 (SWK), Dkt. No. 32.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

The CJA directs the courts to "fix the compensation and reimbursement to be paid to the attorney" representing an indigent defendant in a criminal case. 18 U.S.C. § 3006A(d)(5). Under the CJA and the Revised Plan, the maximum compensation in a felony case is $7,000. 18 U.S.C. § 3006A(d)(3); Revised Plan Part IX.A.2. Compensation in excess of the maximum is permitted if (a) the district court certifies that such payment is "necessary to provide fair compensation," and (b) the payment is approved by the Chief Judge of the Second Circuit or his delegate. See Revised Plan Part IX.B. When applying for compensation in excess of the statutory maximum, CJA counsel must "submit a detailed memorandum supporting and justifying counsel's claim that the representation given was in an extended or complex case, and that the excess payment is necessary to provide fair compensation." Id.

Courts have interpreted the CJA to mandate a two-step inquiry. See, e.g., United States v. Bailey, 581 F.2d 984, 987 (D.C. Cir. 1978); United States v. Keeble, 03 Cr. 399-D, 2008 WL 1792935, at *1 (N.D. Tex. Apr. 16, 2008); United States v. Blandford, 30 F. Supp. 2d 1080, 1081 (C.D. Ill. 1998); United States v. Tutino, 419 F. Supp. 246, 249 (S.D.N.Y. 1976). First, the court must determine whether the case was extended or complex. "'Extended' representation . . . [involves] a substantial investment of time," while "'complex' representation refers to the intricacies of the case and their corresponding call on counsel's intellectual resources." Bailey, 581 F.2d at 987. Notably, "the representation may be either 'extended or complex'; it need not be both." Id. Second, the court must determine whether the requested compensation is "necessary to provide fair compensation." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The D.C. Circuit has summarized the test as follows:

[E]xcess compensation is to be allowed if . . . the legal or factual problems in the case, or the quantity or nature of the service demanded, are "significantly" greater than average. The point of reference is the case commonly encountered, and the comparison must reveal enough margin of difference to justify a confident conclusion that excess compensation is essential to fairness.

Id. at 989 (citation omitted).

The certification process "is not one involving a 'rubber stamp.' It is a meaningful[,] congressionally[-]mandated step that requires detailed justification not only by the lawyer, but also by the approving judge." United States v. Sepulveda, 502 F. Supp. 2d 1104, 1105 (D. Mont. 2007); see also Tutino, 419 F. Supp. at 249 (citation omitted). "Attorneys seeking compensation have the burden of providing sufficient details to support the contention that a case is more complex or time-consuming than the average case," and that the hours claimed are reasonable. United States v. Diaz, 802 F. Supp. 304, 308 (C.D. Cal. 1992) (internal citation omitted). Additionally, when calculating the appropriate amount of compensation, courts must carefully navigate the tension inherent in the policies underlying the CJA. On one hand, representing indigent defendants is a form of public service; thus, "the [CJA] was never intended to provide full compensation for an attorney's services or to provide fees equal to those charged in private practice." Blandford, 30 F. Supp. 2d at 1082 (citing Mills v. United States, 713 F.2d 1249, 1256-57 (7th Cir. 1983), cert. denied 464 U.S. 1069 (1984)); see also Sepulveda, 502 F. Supp. 2d at 1110; United States v. Anderson, 03 Cr. 330-D, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16013, at *14 (N.D. Tex. Aug. 3, 2005) (citations omitted); Diaz, 802 F. Supp. at 307; Tutino, 419 F. Supp. at 253 (citation omitted). On the other hand, the Act was also intended to provide indigent defendants with meaningful representation by competent counsel, see 18 U.S.C. § 3006A(a); Keeble, 2008 WL 1792935, at *2, "and that objective is disserved by a narrow and miserly construction of the excess-compensation provision," Bailey, 581 F.2d at 989.

B. Siegel's CJA Voucher

1. The Case Was Neither Extended ...


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