Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

More Trouble for GA PD’s

Posted by Maggie on September 4, 2007

Although I missed the AJC for several days, thanks to Capital Defense Weekly and StandDown Texas Project, I was alerted to some Georgia Public Defender updates.

The AJC reported on the resignation of Chris Adams, the director of the Capital Defender’s Office. His resignation is in direct response to the budgetary problems going on right now, and more specifically, leadership’s failure to adequately address the problems. He certainly has a point. With all the problems going on lately, GPDSC has rarely made any kind of public comment that acknowledges any difficulties. Their website ignores everything, from the Brian Nichols case to the mass lay-offs in the Conflict Defender Offices.

Even worse, Adams was perhaps the best thing GPDSC had going for it. The Capital Defenders, in the last four years, have resolved 35 cases with no death penalties. Only four went to trial. The time and expense saved are extreme. And it looks like they’re making great progress getting local authorities to agree to take the death penalty off the table.

More on the continuing woes after the jump.

One of the specific problems Adams addressed is the problem of conflict attorneys.

In his letter, Adams notified the council there is not enough money to pay for private lawyers and expert witnesses in so-called “conflict” cases. These are multi-defendant cases where, because of legal ethics rules, the capital defender office can only represent one defendant. Private attorneys, who are paid by the hour, are appointed to represent the others.

One thing the article ignores which is a problem for the rest of the PD’s is the firing of so many conflict defenders. Conflict Defenders are a great idea. It’s basically a separate central office of PD’s who can handle conflict cases. The two separate offices alleviate the conflict problem, and having salaried attorneys keeps down expenses compared to private attorneys billing by the hour. It’s not just PD’s who insist on conflicts, it’s judges and prosecutors, too. Attorneys already aren’t being paid for their conflict work now that the Conflict Defenders are basically gone. But GPDSC hasn’t told anyone what’s going to happen.

What’s worse is that Chris Adams should be someone who really knows what’s going on up at the top of the GPDSC food chain. If he’s this upset about it, it doesn’t seem like we’ve got a whole lot of reasons to look forward to improvement with the PD system.

I’ve seen Capital Defenders in action. They take a huge burden off of PD’s offices who have plenty of major felonies as it is. They really work hard and push DA’s offices to handle cases fairly. Having Capital and Conflict Defenders Offices makes so much sense that it hurts to see them taking most of the flack with the budget cuts.

I hope it’s not this bad. I hope someone out there can tell me how things are improving. I’d love to hear from you Georgia PD’s. Are there any conflict cases going through? What kind of effect is this having on your offices? My experience had very little trickle down in terms of attorneys finding out what changes were being made on a state-wide level. If any of you have Circuit Defenders who talk about it, please tell us what’s going on. Feel free to be anonymous if you feel the need.

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