On Oct. 1, 2012, the Supreme Court ordered that Title X Indigent Representation Rules of the Northern Mariana Islands Supreme Court Rules shall become effective. The rules were developed by the NMI Judicial Council in consultation with the NMI Bar Association and the Superior Court.
The purpose of the new indigent representation rules is to establish procedures for the appointment and compensation of counsel for indigent persons with a constitutional or statutory right to court-appointed counsel in court proceedings. The rules provide the framework for determining under what circumstances a person is entitled to court-appointed and court-compensated counsel.
An indigent person “is a person who does not have sufficient assets, credit, or other means to provide for payment of an attorney.”
One of the eligibility guidelines requires the review of the income of the defendant against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Poverty Guidelines for Hawaii. Using this standard, the head of a household of four earning less than $33,137 would be an indigent person eligible for court appointed counsel.
The rules also address who must answer the call to represent the indigent: “Every lawyer who is admitted to practice law in the Commonwealth has an obligation to represent indigent persons as required by law or the Model Rules of Professional Conduct.”
A judge or justice will issue an order notifying an attorney of his or her appointment as counsel. This appointment will be made from a roster of active licensed attorneys in the Commonwealth maintained by the Clerk of Court for the NMI Superior Court.
During the process of drafting and adopting the Indigent Representation Rules, the High Court reviewed the compensation level for appointed counsel, which had remained the same for nearly 14 years and was less than half of the fees for counsel appointed counsel in the NMI District Court of the United States and the Unified Courts of Guam. Although unable to match the compensation rates of Guam and the federal courts, the CNMI Judiciary did authorize a modest increase while establishing maximum levels of compensation based on the type of case.
The full text of Title X., Indigent Representation Rules and Judicial Council Resolution 2012-01, can be found on the NMI Judiciary's website. (NMI Judiciary)