PHILIPSBURG–Attorney-at-law Geert Hatzmann went on a strike for better pay for pro-bono lawyers, he announced Wednesday morning at the Court of First Instance. With his action, Hatzmann attempts to force government into action.
His demands are twofold: payment of the three to four months in arrears in compensation for his services as a government-assigned lawyer to crime suspects, who cannot afford payment of legal assistance on their own.
Besides, Hatzmann’s action is also aimed at an increase of the fees for pro-bono lawyers. He has been a staunch advocate of indexation of the fees for quite some time already. The fees for pro-bono lawyers have not been increased since 1993.
Hatzmann said he recently had a good conversation with Minister of Justice Edson Kirindongo, but up to date nothing has changed.
His action is at the expense of his clients, who are now left without legal assistance. This will most likely lead to postponement of some five criminal cases which are scheduled for today, Thursday.
Hatzmann said his colleagues have declared their solidarity and will not be taking over any of his clients. The St. Maarten Bar Association also stated its full support for Hatzmann.
“I am fed up with being sent back and forth between government offices like a beggar. I run a one-man legal office, and my work consists for 90 per cent of criminal cases as a pro-bono lawyer,” he explained to the Court.
“I’ve had it with the way in which my colleagues and I are being treated. At the moment, pro-bono lawyers are entitled to NAf. 75 in compensation for spending half a day with their clients at the Police Station. Commitments for a raise are likely to be reversed,” said Hatzmann.
In total, lawyers who provide legal assistance to the less fortunate are entitled to compensation of approximately NAf. 900 per case, disregarding the number of work hours and the interest of the case.
The belligerent lawyer said he wants to continue his strike until he has received payment. He announced talks with his colleagues, which, he said, could lead to a general strike of government-assigned lawyers next week.
“This could, for instance, lead to problems concerning the preliminary detention of suspects in the recent shooting incidents. I will not go with my clients to an investigating judge,” Hatzmann stated, who added that criminal justice in St. Maarten may grind to a standstill. “I’m very sorry for the Court and the Prosecutor’s Office, because these are not to blame.”
His clients may be duped, but for the embattled lawyer it is a matter of principle. “I demand a solution to what basically is a debt issue. I demand payment because I have worked very hard and honestly for my money. My invoices have been approved, but everyone is pointing at each other when it comes to payment. This embarrassing treatment by government personnel needs to stop. Talks with the Minister were very positive and media attention did not work. A strike is my last resort.”
Dean Aernout Kraaijeveld said the Bar Association is in full support of Hatzmann’s action. He said the Association is in correspondence with the Minister about this issue, which he described as a “very unpleasant situation.”
Source: Daily Herald
Attorney Hatzmann strikes for better pay