That’s the lesson of United States v. Wilson, handed down today by the Sixth Circuit in an opinion by Judge Sutton. A public defender was appointed in the defendant’s case based on his perceived inability to hire his own lawyer. But near the end of the trial, the district court learned that the defendant was not exactly indigent:
[T]he court learned that Wilson had been staying at the “historic Brown hotel” in downtown Louisville throughout the trial, at a cost of roughly $10,000, after turning down the government’s offer of free accommodations. R.229 at 5. Further inquiry revealed that, by early 2007, Wilson was not a traditional candidate for free legal services: His income in 2007 totaled roughly $134,000; he lived in an exclusive section of San Francisco, where he paid $2,300 per month in rent; he has no dependents; his discretionary income in 2007 allowed him to spend at least $18,000 on the kinds of restaurants and wineries not known for catering to indigents; and Wilson’s friends had created a $44,000 fund to pay for his legal services in the case.
The district court ordered Wilson to pay for the cost of the public defender’s services:
Recognizing that this was not the type of person Congress had in mind when it authorized the government to provide legal services to indigent criminal defendants, the district court was not pleased. After further factual investigation, it ordered Wilson to pay $52,305 in “reasonable monthly payments” for the costs of the public defender’s services.
The Sixth Circuit upheld the order, writing, “Happily for Wilson, the fee was worth it, as he was acquitted on all charges. Unhappily for Wilson, the district court did not abuse its discretion in ordering him to pay for the representation.”
As an aside, I wonder how the defendant paid for the attorney who represented him in the appeal arguing that he couldn’t afford an attorney.