Overview of the Committee for Public Counsel Services

Additional information about the Committee for Public Counsel Services.

Table of Contents


The Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) is responsible for providing criminal and certain non-criminal legal services to indigent persons entitled by law to representation by legal counsel. CPCS’s website defines indigent persons as “those unable to afford an attorney in all matters in which the law requires the appointment of counsel” and states that the legal representation in question “includes representation in criminal, delinquency, youthful offender, child welfare, mental health, sexually dangerous person and sex offender registry cases, as well as related appeals and post-conviction matters.

According to CPCS’s website, “Representation is provided by a combination of approximately 500 staff attorneys and 3,000 private attorneys trained and certified to accept appointments.” When a private attorney is assigned a case, a Notice of Assignment of Counsel (NAC) is generated.


Only private attorneys are given a NAC, which is a number unique to a particular case or assignment. A private attorney will receive a NAC each time s/he is assigned to a criminal case. If a case is transferred from one attorney to another, the court or CPCS must issue a new NAC to the new attorney. If an attorney withdraws from a case, it is his/her responsibility to notify the court or CPCS of the withdrawal so that a new NAC can be issued to the succeeding attorney.

Private Counsel Division

The Private Counsel Division of CPCS represents indigent individuals by assigning private attorneys for criminal defense trials, including appealed cases. It also represents indigent individuals convicted of sex offenses in commitment and registration cases.

Public Defender Division

The Public Defender Division of CPCS is dedicated to meeting the needs of indigent clients in Massachusetts. Like those in the Private Counsel Division, attorneys in the Public Defender Division are assigned to indigent clients for criminal defense and post-conviction cases, as well as commitment and registration cases for persons convicted of sex offenses. However, unlike the Private Counsel Division, the Public Defender Division consists solely of state employees.

Youth Advocacy Division

The Youth Advocacy Division provides trial and appellate representation to indigent youths in delinquency, youthful offender, murder, appeal, and parole release and revocation hearings. Lawyers appear before the juvenile, district, superior, and appellate courts, as well as in administrative proceedings before the Department of Youth Services and the Parole Board.

Mental Health Litigation Division

The Mental Health Litigation Division provides counsel for individuals facing civil commitments to mental hospitals, guardianships, and extraordinary medical treatment, including the administration of antipsychotic medications. Counsel is provided through four staffed offices and private attorneys trained, certified, and monitored by the division.

Children and Family Law Program

The Children and Family Law Program provides trial and appellate representation to indigent parents and children in care and protection proceedings, Child in Need of Services cases, actions to terminate parents’ rights, state agency sponsored guardianship cases, and any other proceedings regarding child custody to which the Department of Children and Families (DCF) is a party or in which the court is considering granting custody to DCF.

Audit and Oversight Department

According to Section 12 of Chapter 211D of the Massachusetts General Laws, the CPCS Audit and Oversight (A&O) Department is responsible for monitoring the billings of private attorneys who accept cases for indigent clients as well as vendors who provide expert services to CPCS attorneys. These vendor services are related to matters that include, but are not limited to, medical, psychiatric, criminal, and investigative matters. A&O performs audits and reviews bills to identify any overbillings or unusual billing activity, verifying the reasonableness of hours and dollar amounts billed.

E-Bill System

The E-Bill system is a Web-based billing system developed by CPCS for private attorneys to use to submit bills. Private attorneys are not required to provide supporting documentation for each bill submitted unless selected for audit by A&O.

A&O uses the E-Bill system to select private attorney bills for audit. The system selects every 650th bill for review. When a bill is selected, the E-Bill system informs the attorney and requests the following information: (1) a copy of the E-Bill notice, (2) a copy of the bill selected for audit, (3) a copy of the contemporaneous time records1 that support the bill, and (4) proof of professional liability insurance.2 A&O audit staff members review the attorney’s time records and compare them to the corresponding time entered in the E-Bill system. If, during the review, any amount of billed time is not supported by the attorney’s time records or any other required supporting documentation, the attorney’s payment from CPCS is reduced. When the audit is complete, A&O informs the attorney of any adjustments.

V-Bill System

V-Bill is a Web-based billing system developed by CPCS that is accessible to expert vendors who, through a motion approved by a judge, are allowed to bill for services. These vendors assist attorneys by providing medical, psychiatric, criminal, and investigative expertise. A vendor’s bill is reviewed and approved in the V-Bill system by the private attorney assigned to the case on which the vendor assisted. If a bill is approved by the attorney, it is then reviewed by the CPCS Accounts Payable Department for final approval. A&O conducts a review of all expert witness bills in excess of $5,000 to ensure that the bills have sufficient supporting documentation. During the audit period, CPCS paid 1,025 expert vendors a total of $49,879,867 for work performed during the audit period. Payments ranged from $21 to $2,227,717, with an average of $21,518.

Office of the Commissioner of Probation

According to Sections 2A(a), (b), and (c) of Chapter 211D of the General Laws, and Supreme Judicial Court Rule 3:10, the Chief Probation Officer (CPO) assigned to a court is responsible for ensuring that a person claiming to be indigent meets the definition of indigency when court determinations are made. In addition, after a person is appointed counsel, s/he is at all times subject to verification of indigency by the CPO. The CPO, within seven days of appointment of counsel, completes an Indigency Verification Results Form using information obtained electronically from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, Department of Transitional Assistance, and Registry of Motor Vehicles to verify wage, tax, and asset information provided by the indigent party. This report is filed with the case files of the court’s Probation Department. Under Section 2A(c) of Chapter 211D of the General Laws, the CPO is required to perform a reassessment of a person six months after s/he is assigned counsel. The reassessment process reoccurs every six months thereafter until the case is resolved. The reassessment process involves the completion of a new Indigency Verification Results Form by the CPO or his/her designee to verify the person’s financial status.

1. Contemporaneous records are recorded by a vendor while the vendor is completing the task.

2. According to the staff counsel of A&O, the E-Bill notice requests proof of insurance for the first random audit in a calendar year. If a later bill is selected randomly for audit for the same attorney within the same calendar year, the E-Bill notice does not request proof of insurance.

Date published: February 28, 2018

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