Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

Completely Unacceptable

Posted by Maggie on February 15, 2008

Being a Public Defender is not an easy job. Especially if you’re right out of law school and drowning in student loans. One of the beauties of the way GPDSC was envisioned was that it provided training and support for PD’s in Georgia, the old and the new. There would be the regular yearly training for new PD’s, this would help them fulfill their Transition into Law Practice Program (TILPP), which is required for new attorneys by the State Bar. And additional training on a variety of subjects would help all PD’s learn about specific problems and meet with other PD’s around the State to share resources. This helped PD’s avoid the costly and generally irrelevant CLE’s they would otherwise have to take to remain in compliance with the Bar. They even had an Honors Program for new PD’s to apply for training with a select group of PD’s to build rapport and relationships, and to meet regularly to maintain those relationships. That structure and support that can mean so much in the bleak times every PD goes through.

This is the Training Calendar for GPDSC, dating back to 2005. In 2005 there were 12 attorney training sessions, including New Attorney trainings, Honors Program meetings, and special seminars on Sentencing, DUI, Appeals, Evidence, Juvenile Defense, Mental Health and Forensics. In 2006 there were 11. In 2007 there were 5. In 2008 there has been 1 and no more are scheduled due to budget constraints.

GPDSC’s original training director was Jonathan Rapping, who now runs the Southern Public Defender Training Center. Some time in early 2007 (I think, not sure on the timeline)a new Training Director was appointed. (Everyone has been mum on the details for the change, I suspect it’s political.) However, without announcement, he is no longer listed as a staff member. In fact, there is currently no Training Director. The Training Division has 2 staff members, neither of whom are attorneys registered with the State Bar. I don’t know what it is the staff is doing, but I can tell you what it’s not doing. GPDSC is not reporting training CLE hours to the State Bar, and they are not providing the Bar information on TILPP compliance.

It has always been difficult to get anyone on the phone at GPDSC. The website has no extension numbers and there’s only one central number. Sometimes an operator answers, but often no one does. When you do get through, it’s difficult to get a returned phone call. And when you finally speak to someone, you can’t count on a follow-through. It seems to me that making sure the PD’s, the grunts in the trenches, are in compliance with the Bar should be a high priority to GPDSC.

It blows my mind that despite the fact that I left GPDSC some time ago, they have still not reported a huge chunk of my CLE hours, nor do I ever expect them to comply. When I’ve discussed the issue with the State Bar, I’ve heard that I’m not the first and that lots of PD’s are having problems with compliance due to GPDSC’s faulty reporting of TILPP and CLE, which are required to keep your license from being suspended. PD’s are working long hours, being paid less than most in the legal profession, and aren’t even getting the most basic support from their employer.

I have long attacked GPDSC for failing to take a stand on the issues. They aren’t passionately standing up for indigent defense. They aren’t standing up for their attorneys and the hard and admirable work they do every day. They aren’t making public comments to insist that they require an adequate budget to keep the justice system working. Even worse, I hear that the Council’s valuable time is being spent deciding what to do about DeKalb County Chief Defender Larry Schneider and a racial slur.

It seems to me that GPDSC’s valuable time and resources should be placed elsewhere. It is about time they stood up for their attorneys and for their clients. If you’re a PD having problems, the people at the State Bar have all been very understanding so I hope you’re able to get your own situation resolved. As for the upcoming class of law school graduates, I find it unlikely that those considering a career in public defense will want to go anywhere near the State of Georgia until they see if GPDSC can get their act together. In the end, it’s a lose-lose situation for everyone. And only GPDSC can fix it.

(If you find the above rant lacks the appropriate vim and vigor, I apologize. WordPress ate my original, much nastier rant, and it’s hard to duplicate such things.)

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4 Responses to “Completely Unacceptable”

  1. Jen said

    Amen!!

    Clarification: While it’s true that Rap and GPDSC had a difference of opinion on a few issues, Rap left GPDSC to move to New Orleans and get their PD system back on track. He wasn’t forced out nor did he leave because he no longer believed in the training program set up in Georgia.

    Baker’s first Honors Program class was ’07 and he held their three week training this past August, but after that – nada. It’s like the program dropped off the face of the planet.

    GPDSC shouldn’t expect those who made a three year commitment to follow through when they didn’t uphold their end of the bargain.

  2. P. Shah said

    Verlencia Lester works for GPDSC and she will answer questions nobody else is willing to answer, and she will provide help when nobody else will. Her office number is (404) 232-8900.

  3. Maggie said

    P., I’m glad you’ve been able to get help. Verlencia is one of the people I spoke to trying to get my own problems resolved. Needless to say, they weren’t resolved. And, to note, that 8900 number is the main number for GPDSC, not an extension.

  4. Maggie said

    And to be clear, I don’t think the real root of the problem is any particular staff member. I think it’s the leadership, plain and simple. I know what it’s like to be unable to help people simply because you don’t have the power to change the system. But what we need is some openness from the people who do have the power to make change.

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