Court orders disclosure of attorney fees records
TENNESSEE–In mid-July, a criminal court judge in Knoxville ordered that the dollar amount paid to court-appointed defense attorneys who have been representing an indigent murder defendant since 1992 must be made public.
Writing that “there should be public access to all proceedings in this court,” Knox County Judge Richard Baumgartner ordered the disclosure after The Knoxville News-Sentinel filed a motion to unseal records detailing the hours and expenses billed by two defense attorneys representing Thomas Huskey, and fees paid to defense experts. Baumgartner declined to release the underlying records, but indicated he would so at the conclusion of the proceedings.
In early July, shortly after the News-Sentinel filed its motion, Huskey’s attorneys counter-sued the newspaper for $25,000 for inflicting “mental and emotional anguish” on their client and to cover their legal fees incurred defending against the newspaper’s motion. The attorneys withdrew their complaint the following day, after News- Sentinel editor Harry Moskos stated in an article that the attorneys were “punishing” the newspaper for seeking access to the fee information. However, the defense counsel continue to assert that the newspaper should pay their costs.
In opposing the newspaper’s motion for access to the fee documents, Huskey’s attorneys argued that the newspaper did not have standing to intervene in the criminal case, that publishing the information would compromise Huskey’s fair trial rights and that Huskey should not have to reveal the cost of his defense simply because he is poor and dependent on the state for representation.
Huskey is awaiting trial for the murders of four women in 1992. If convicted, he could face the death penalty. Huskey was convicted in 1991 and 1992 for several rapes, and his attorneys have already been paid for representing him during those proceedings. The current court seal includes documents pertaining to the cost of Huskey’s defense for the completed rape trials.
The fee information will be disclosed in 30 days, after the time for appeal lapses. (Tennessee v. Huskey; Media Counsel: Rick Hollow, Knoxville)