Discretionary appointment of counsel

Litigation, All Basic Human Needs

in In re Johnson, 475 So. 2d 340, 341-42 (La. 1985), which concerned whether a family court had authority to order the Department of Health and Human Resources to pay the attorneys' fees to the attorney who represented an indigent parent in a proceeding to declare a child abandoned, the Louisiana Supreme Court stated:


Among the purposes for which inherent judicial power may be exerted are the issuance of needful orders in aid of a court's jurisdiction and the regulation of the practice of law. In aid of these purposes, a court has the inherent power to require an attorney to represent an indigent, with or without compensation, as an obligation burdening his privileges to practice and to serve as an officer of court. The court's power to furnish counsel for indigents necessarily includes the power, when reasonably necessary for effective representation, to issue an order requiring the state, its appropriate subdivision, department, or agency, to provide for the payment of counsel fees and necessary expenses.


Consequently, even in the absence of legislative or executive authorization, a court may, when reasonably necessary, appoint counsel for an indigent and award the attorney a reasonable fee to be paid from a source which the court deems appropriate. In deciding whether the state or one of its subdivisions, departments, or agencies should pay the fee, a court must act with comity toward the other branches of government and with sensitive regard for the concepts of functional differentiation and the checks and balances implied by the separation of powers doctrine. Important considerations for a court taking such action include the following: the structure and scheme of existing legislation which may be applied by analogy, the ability of an entity to budget and finance such expenditures, the entity's responsibility for incurring the need for legal services or for administering the program out of which the need arises, and the existence of any custom or informal practice regarding the payment of such fees.

Appointment of Counsel: discretionary Qualified: no