Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

Putting the System on Trial

Posted by Maggie on October 16, 2007

The Judge in the murder trial of Brian Nichols has now threatened contempt of state officials if they won’t start paying the defense team. I think he’s completely right to do so. What has me stumped is what is going on in the head of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council. They’ve refrained from comment through this entire scandal and I’m not sure what it is they intend to do.

What is it we ask of a public defense system, anyway? The mission of GPDSC is,

…to ensure, independently of political considerations or private interests, that each client whose cause has been entrusted to a circuit public defender receives zealous, adequate, effective, timely, and ethical legal representation.

It certainly doesn’t seem like they’ve taken that approach to Brian Nichols. But what else is there to consider? There’s the funding cuts they just took. That’s a big issue. They have thousands of clients to help, why should any one take precedence over the rest? They have many young and old defenders working hard to do their best, many of them for little pay. Why should these private attorneys get such significant funds?

I understand all the debate both ways. But here’s what gets me. The problem is the approach GPDSC takes. It seems lately that they are embarrassed to be in this line of work. They don’t go to the legislature talking about how important their work is and how much they need their funding. They try to scale back to compromise. They don’t come to court and say Nichols should pay, they try and avoid it. I want to see a little backbone. That’s what PD’s are all about, standing up and fighting for something instead of trying to get out of something.

Moreover, make a comment now and then. There’ve been 3 press releases for the entire year of 2007. 1 regarding budget cuts, 2 regarding personnel changes. Why don’t they tell us what they’re working for and what they want to do to make things better. It’s getting harder and harder to be proud of an organization that doesn’t seem to be proud of itself. The appointment of a state legislator to take over the agency doesn’t seem to have done a whole lot yet, he certainly hasn’t been outspoken about how great his agency is. They’d make up a lot of ground if they’d seem like they actually wanted to defend people. Nichols appears to have some great, qualified, hard-working attorneys, so why don’t you show them a little love?

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