Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

Today’s Nichols/GPDSC Update

Posted by Maggie on January 18, 2008

So it seems Nichols isn’t the only one who’s trial has been halted.  The GPDSC budget crisis (which is, in many ways, independent of the Nichols budget crisis) has been effecting the payment of private attorneys in conflict cases all over the State.  Capital cases, in particular, are feeling the pinch.  The AJC reports on various death penalty cases around Georgia and where they stand.  Criticize Judge Fuller all you want, but when you see what other Judges are doing, his position starts to make sense.  

The worst is in Pike County, where a capital defendant was represented by two private attorneys.  When they weren’t getting paid, they asked for a delay of the case.  Instead, the Judge pulled them out and put in two local PD’s.  This is wrong for a host of reasons.  Local PD’s no longer cover death penalty cases, that’s what the Capital Defender is for.  So the local offices aren’t equipped to handle them, they have full enough case loads as it is.  Worse, the defendant refused to speak to the new attorneys.   Judges seem to think that if GPDSC can pay its salaries, they can pay private attorneys.  The truth is, they are not able to do both right now.  Private attorneys have been unpaid for months.  Conflicts have been insane and cases are up in the air.  If private attorneys are paid, it’s believed the Council will come to a complete halt.

The Governor has asked that GPDSC get emergency funds, but those won’t be available for months.  It’s possible the whole system may stop before then.

Meanwhile, GPDSC has been working on their budget in regards to Nichols.  The representation of Brian Nichols has been through some twists and turns. I know in my days as a PD it wasn’t unusual for someone’s lawyer to change on a regular basis, and it was rarely a good thing. It doesn’t really leave the client feeling confident, even if their new lawyer is better than the last one. I always made an effort to set up a relationship with a client if I was able to once I had them assigned to me. I wanted to make them comfortable with me and my understanding of their case. Because ideally you keep the same client from beginning to end. That relationship can mean very little and it can mean a whole lot, depending on the case.

It looks like Nichols’ representation may be changing again. Originally, Nichols was represented by a member of the Capital Defenders. But then that attorney changed to Gary Parker, who was a deputy director of GPDSC. I’m not sure why this change was made, it happened quite some time ago before I followed the case as closely. Later, Parker left the case–I believe it was partly due to health reasons–and was replaced by private attorneys. These changes were all made with GPDSC’s involvement. It seemed a little strange to go to private counsel instead of back to Capital Defenders, if changes were going to be made, but I wasn’t privy to their reasons.

That change to private counsel has cost the State a lot of money. They would be paying a lot of money anyway if he was represented by Capital Defenders. It would probably use up a lot of their resources (maybe even affect other cases) due to the sheer volume of it. The Capital Defenders take their job seriously, they come into these cases with piles of motions and do everything they can. With Nichols they’ve got a whole new bridge to cross.

The budget problems with private attorneys are also substantial, and have been the object of much criticism. So it seems GPDSC will ask for one of the private attorneys to be removed from the case. There are currently 4 of them, one works for free. They plan to replace that lawyer with a Capital Defender, and it appears that an associate of the lead attorney will be the one to be replaced. Another will be put on State payroll.

I know they have a budget crisis and I’m all for fixing it. But I’m also all for having a good attorney-client relationship. I hope they’ve given a lot of time and thought to not just the monetary effect, but the effect on the entire team and on the defendant. But then again, if this is a necessary step, it may be the best choice. The lead attorney is paid by the County. Another is free. Of the remaining two, they’re losing the one with the highest hourly fee.

When you take these two stories and put them together, I think things will come to a head in the coming months. Is GPDSC really going to run out of money before they get a legislative bail out? If other cases continue to go forward without proper funding and with new counsel, what will be the outcomes on appeal? Some areas seem content to wait it out–which I think is wise–to make sure their cases don’t face these issues. But what will happen when you have a Judge who refuses to wait? And if the Nichols trial actually begins, what will happen if GPDSC runs out of money in the middle of it after all the work put in to get the case going?

It makes my head spin.

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One Response to “Today’s Nichols/GPDSC Update”

  1. […] the death penalty is a touchy one and one that generates much discussion. Be it the State that is crumbling under the enormous cost of capital punishment (philanthropy might be a substitute) or the hypocrisy […]

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