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Mears v. State Public Defenders Office

Court of Appeal of Iowa

May 30, 2013

PHILIP MEARS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
STATE PUBLIC DEFENDERS OFFICE, Defendant-Appellee.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Henry County, Cynthia H. Danielson, Judge.

         Philip Mears appeals from the denial of his request for court-appointed attorney fees in a criminal case.

          Philip B. Mears of Mears Law Office, Iowa City, for appellant.

          Samuel P. Langholz, State Public Defender, and Rebecca J. Hanson, Assistant State Public Defender, Des Moines, for appellee.

          Heard by Eisenhauer, C.J., and Potterfield and Tabor, JJ.

          POTTERFIELD, J.

         Philip Mears appeals from the denial of his request for court-appointed attorney fees in a criminal case. We reverse and remand, finding the State Public Defenders Office (SPD) improperly found the cost of representation in Drips's action for postconviction relief was not eligible for compensation under Iowa Code section 822.5 (2011).

         I. Facts and Proceedings.

         In May of 2012, Philip Mears was denied compensation for his work as court-appointed postconviction relief counsel for George Drips. He was appointed to represent Drips the previous May after Drips wrote to the district court requesting to receive earned-time credit against his two-year special sentence, imposed pursuant to Iowa Code section 903B.2 after his parole was revoked. In its order filing Drips's letter as an application for postconviction relief and appointing counsel, the district court wrote: "Arguably, the sentence Drips received is subject to collateral attack according to Iowa Code section 822.2(g). Drips is entitled to the cost of legal representation under Iowa Code section 822.5." The court appointed Mears "at state expense, pursuant to Iowa Code section 822.5."

         On May 11, 2011, shortly after his appointment by the court, Mears wrote to the SPD inquiring as to whether the Indigent Defense Fund would pay for his services as court-appointed counsel to Drips. Mears filed an amended and substituted application for postconviction relief on June 13, 2011. He noted the application raised issues similar to two other cases in which relief was granted, one of which was on appeal. On June 23, the SPD wrote Mears notifying him that a claim for his services as court-appointed counsel would be denied. It stated:

The postconviction action that you describe challenging the [Department of Correction]'s calculation of an estimated release date, and in particular the failure to grant earned time credit or presentence credit, does not challenge either the conviction or the sentence imposed by the district court. It challenges the application of the sentence and other statutory provisions by the [Department of Corrections].

         In September 2011, this court entered a decision denying postconviction relief in the similar case, and Drips's petition was in turn denied.[1] In October, Mears filed his claim for fees with the SPD accompanied by a letter which noted that while "[o]rdinarily claims about earned time, that has been forfeited, do not get counsel. . . . Mr. Drips's claim, however, is not about whether earned time was forfeited. The claim is whether the type of sentence qualifies for earned time or not." The SPD denied Mears's claim for two reasons: because it was untimely and because it was not a compensable indigent defense claim.

         The claim was later found to have been timely; however, the SPD maintained its position that Drips's claim was not a compensable indigent defense claim. On December 9, 2011, Mears filed a motion for court review of the SPD's denial of his fee claim. On May 21, 2012, the court denied his motion for review. The district court based its decision on our supreme court's holding in Kolzow, 813 N.W.2d at 731, noting the court in Kolzow found "the imposition of the additional two-year period of incarceration pursuant to section 903B.2 does not constitute a ...


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