Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

Today’s Nichols Update

Posted by Maggie on February 21, 2008

As I’ve mentioned recently, the Nichols updates these days aren’t coming from the court itself, where things are rather quiet. (I’m assuming lots is going on behind the scenes.) But the legislature is moving fast and furious to make sure Nichols never happens again. (Ignoring the fact that statistically speaking, it’s pretty unlikely we’ll have a set of circumstances this insane again ever.)

The Daily Report covers the story and has links to all the House Bills.

First, HB 1251 addresses payment limits for appointed counsel in death penalty cases. It sets up a payment split between GPDSC and the county, with GPDSC bearing most of the initial burden, and splitting the costs at a set amount after spending reaches certain amounts. The bill makes sense, though it’s only ever going to apply to a handful of cases, and should prevent any litigation between the State and County agencies about funding.

Under HB 1252, Senior Judges (such as Judge Fuller) will not be able to preside over capital cases. Senior Judges generally only sit in when needed and do so at an hourly rate of pay, which can make the expenses of trial for a county much higher. Again, makes sense and should prevent money squabbling. But again, only going to apply to a handful of cases. (Most counties would avoid appointing a senior judge in such a case anyway.)

And finally, HB 1253, which requires GPDSC to do the appointing of conflict counsel. The only point in this one I can see is that it keeps the Judge from doing the appointing. (Although it’s strange to see the House trusting GPDSC with appointments and costs when the Senate seems to find them completely untrustworthy on anything.)

While I think most of the State has learned from the problems of Nichols, I can’t really complain about the legislation. None of it is a direct attack, it’s more about prevention. It’s about assigning costs which haven’t ever really been specifically addressed. (Thus the litigation between Fulton County and the State about payments in Nichols.) It’s definitely a more even-tempered approach than the Senate’s approach to GPDSC.

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