Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

Proposed GPDSC Legislation

Posted by Maggie on January 8, 2008

Back in December we heard the legislature was trying to make some changes to the troubled Public Defender System in Georgia. They need more money. They need to figure out how they’re going to handle conflict cases with multiple co-defendants. But the proposed legislation is ignoring most of the problems.

A lot of the changes are budget oriented and I’m not familiar enough with the system or the changes to really get it. Another bunch of changes remove the words “conflict defender” nearly every time it appears. Georgia was setting up conflict offices, outside bunches of attorneys who would take the conflict cases on salary instead of hourly, which can add up fast. I thought it was a great system, but apparently it’s on its way out if the legislation goes through. We were all PD’s together, we were all working our hardest, and cases with multiple co-defendants had counsel assigned quickly.

There are other changes that look like they may not make it to the final version of the bill. Both are pretty troubling and I hope they go.

The first proposal reduces the term of Circuit Public Defenders from 4 years to 2. The Circuit Defender is the head of one or more county offices. Many Circuit Defenders are private attorneys who take the job, some temporarily and some for term after term. A bad Circuit Defender can certainly be a problem. But changing it to a two-year term makes private attorneys who have excellent practices less likely to take the job. We need incentives to get talented attorneys running our offices.

The second proposal requires inmates to request a PD in writing. In writing! What about those who are arrested drunk or high and unable to make any kind of coherent decision? What about those who are mentally ill and refuse all help or aid? What about those who don’t speak English or are illiterate? PD’s need to be able to step up and take on someone’s representation, otherwise there will be more inmates falling through the cracks without bond and without court dates.

While I hope these two proposals are cut, I’m still concerned that we’re ignoring the big budget problems completely.

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One Response to “Proposed GPDSC Legislation”

  1. Audacity said

    Another lovely piece is that public defenders from different circuits be assigned as conflict counsel. Oh yes, as I didn’t have enough clients in my circuit, I’d be required to travel to various parts of Georgia to represent other folks. Brilliant.

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