Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

Missing the Point

Posted by Maggie on December 20, 2007

I’ve been curious to hear how the legislature plans to fix GPDSC so it can scale back costs. Nobody wants to keep getting into a state of financial crisis when PD’s are involved. But the legislative study committee that met yesterday doesn’t seem to have any good ideas. Ideas discussed:

1. Take away the 72-hour requirement that people arrested get a meeting within a certain amount of time. It sounds like this one may have been pushed by a particular circuit. I never had a problem with it since we had daily sweeps of the jail. I don’t see what it’s going to do to affect any budget issues. PD’s know this is part of the job. Usually the problem is more about the jail’s cooperation.

2. Chinese Wall approach to Conflict cases. This issue was much debated in my time as a PD when the conflict offices started getting closed down. Our consensus was that this was completely impracticable. As a PD, your office should be your main support. One of the best perks was being able to go down the hall, poke your head into someone’s office, and run your case by them. Creating a chinese wall would mean you couldn’t even necessarily talk to your boss about a case, you’d be going it totally alone and the client would be getting a lesser standard of care. Conflict offices are the answer, and I don’t know why they keep getting the brunt of the cutbacks. The conflict offices should allow conflict cases to go to salaried attorneys instead of hourly private counsel, which should create a good amount of savings.

3. Make less people eligible for PD’s. They want to eliminate certain misdemeanor defendants and traffic cases. (I don’t know about other offices, but we never had any traffic cases unless they were in Superior Court.) Worse, make people prove they are eligible or conduct more investigations. First of all, making less people eligible will not solve the problems we’re dealing with, especially since those provided counsel generally have fees associated with their sentences that go back to PD’s. Second, more investigations means more money and more staff. Third, more investigations or a higher standard of proof means more time and paperwork that gets in the way of getting representation going. One of the great things about the current system is that someone can walk into court without an attorney and have one in five minutes. We need that.

I don’t see anything useful in any of these proposals. And what really gets me is that no one is doing any investigation on the prosecution side to see how they’re spending their funds. I think that if you’re going to look at these things, you need to examine both sides together. It looks like there are a few people in this committee who are being the voice of reason when someone suggests something stupid. But I also don’t see any answers, which probably means we’ll just keep fighting about it for years to come.

To me, the real answer is for Georgia to step up and be proud of its system and just friggin’ pay for it.

PD’s around Georgia, I’d love to hear any of your suggestions or what you think of the suggestions made by the committee.

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One Response to “Missing the Point”

  1. Chuck said

    Well I think these recommendations are very disheartening, bordering on pathetic. There isn’t too much to say other than that, other than to speculate on exactly what needs to occur to wake up the Georgia Legislature into realizing the importance of having a good Public Defender system.

    All I can really think of is for that moment when this hits home, and a public defender isn’t ready to go forward on a case he or she is forced to try. It will be important for that attorney to put it on the record that they feel they are unable to adequately represent the interests of their client.

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