ORLANDO, Fla. – The attorney representing accused murderer Markeith Loyd has not been paid for his work on the case in nearly a year because a state agency objects to the lawyer’s “excessive” legal bills, records obtained by News 6 show.
In July 2018, a judge appointed attorney Terence Lenamon to defend Loyd in two separate death penalty cases involving the murders of Loyd’s pregnant ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton.
The Justice Administrative Commission, or JAC, is responsible for processing financial invoices submitted to the state by private court-appointed attorneys who represent indigent criminal defendants.
Since Lenamon’s appointment, JAC has approved nearly $185,000 in attorney fees at a rate of $100 per hour.
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However, JAC has not yet approved Lenamon’s most recent invoice for $75,750 covering work he said he performed on behalf of Loyd between June and October 2020.
In a letter objecting to Lenamon’s most recent attorney fees, JAC officials told Lenamon “the number of hours billed to JAC for your court-appointed cases is excessive and concerning.”
Except for a few minor clerical errors on invoices, Lenamon insists he has accurately billed the state for the work he has done on behalf of his indigent clients.
“I am passionately opposed to the government taking a life in the criminal justice system,” Lenamon wrote in response to JAC challenging his invoices. “The work I do weighs heavy on my conscience.”
Lenamon said state funding is essential to providing Loyd and other criminal defendants their constitutional sixth amendment rights to a fair trial and effective assistance of counsel.
Over the past five years, Lenamon said he has worked on nearly 30 death penalty cases, including Loyd’s.
As part of an audit of the state’s highest billing court-appointed attorneys, JAC examined Lenamon’s invoices for all his state-funded cases over that five-year period.
Auditors noted that Lenamon billed JAC for 4,710 hours of legal work in 2018, an average of nearly 13 hours a day.
That calculation includes weekends and holidays.
By estimating that Lenamon needed six hours per day for sleeping and two hours for eating, showering and personal hygiene care, JAC auditors concluded Lenamon was left with an average of just three hours each day for all other activities.
“JAC questions how you are able to manage your law firm, commute, attend and teach [continuing legal education] classes, act as a ‘resource attorney’ to other capital attorneys, and perform personal activities while still managing to maintain quality legal representation in light of the number of hours billed to the JAC,” the agency wrote in an April 20 letter to Lenamon.
According to JAC, over a two-year period there were only 21 days in which Lenamon did not bill the state for clients’ legal work.
On 272 occasions, Lenamon billed the state for 15 or more hours in a single day, according the agency.
“The daily pace suggested by your billings is simply unmanageable for extended periods of time,” the JAC letter stated.
The JAC audit also found that the attorney had twice billed the state for 24 hours or more of work in a single day.
Lenamon told News 6 he never worked a full 24-hour day. The attorney vowed to reimburse the state $2,200 for what he described as clerical errors on some of the invoices.
In a 34-page written response to JAC, Lenamon defended his billing practices and the hours he devotes to clients.
“I am a workaholic with tunnel vision. To the detriment perhaps of familial relationships, I have committed to leaving no stone unturned on my cases, particularly those clients who are targeted for death by the government,” Lenamon wrote. “I work holidays and weekends. I do not drink and have no hobbies.”
In his motion seeking payment of attorney fees, Lenamon noted others who work long hours including SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
“In the 1800s, many Americans worked seventy hours or more a week,” said Lenamon.
Between July 2018 and October 2020, Lenamon said he was responsible for 19 death penalty cases, many of them occurring simultaneously. Sixteen of those defendants have since received life sentences, according to the attorney, which he considers “high success”.
Among the defendants receiving life sentences was Loyd, who was convicted in 2019 of murdering his ex-girlfriend but spared the death penalty.
Loyd still faces a potential death sentence if convicted in the OPD police officer’s murder. That trial is scheduled for October.
Lenamon said Loyd’s two cases have involved a tremendous amount of discovery and transcripts, including more than 68,200 electronic legal files and 80,000 pages of Facebook materials.
Another death penalty case Lenamon handled recently involved more than 40 boxes of discovery, he said.
Court-appointed attorneys in Florida are entitled to a flat fee of $25,000 for death penalty cases unless a judge rules that a particular criminal case demands unusual or extraordinary efforts.
In such circumstances, state law requires attorneys to keep detailed, contemporaneous records detailing how they spent their time representing clients.
Under JAC rules, attorneys who request payment for more than 10 hours per day or 50 hours per week for work involving one or multiple clients must provide additional documentation that explains the billing.
Late last year, JAC objected to three invoices submitted by Lenamon on behalf of Loyd and two other clients facing the death penalty: Dwight Eaglin and Vahtiece Kirkman.
According to JAC, the attorney did not provide an adequate explanation of the hours he attempted to bill in those cases.
Lenamon claims he provided JAC with the same types of records he had done with 57 previous invoices that were approved for payment by the agency between 2016 and 2020.
“JAC rarely made specific objections or raised any issues concerning each voucher,” Lenamon wrote.
In his motion for attorney fees, Lenamon accuses JAC of trying to deprive court-appointed attorneys of funding following the release of a 2019 state report highlighting the high cost of death penalty cases.
“JAC is only focused on recouping money,” wrote Lenamon. “A designed effort to gain favor with the Legislature and perhaps save their jobs for the criticism clearly directed at them in the [2019 report].”
JAC has not yet responded in court to the attorney’s allegation, and the commission’s chairwoman declined to comment on the pending matter.
Lenamon is asking Orange-Osceola Chief Judge Donald Myers to approve the most recent attorney fees he submitted to the JAC on behalf of Loyd. He has filed similar motions in the two other death penalty cases that are the subject of JAC billing objections.
A hearing on the attorney fees is scheduled for May 24 in Orange County Circuit Court.