Of Counsel

Legal Notes on Georgia and The South

Today’s Nichols Update

Posted by Maggie on March 12, 2008

Another article in Creative Loafing, the alternative weekly newspaper, on Brian Nichols. A definite must-read. The story outlines clearly the history of indigent defense in Georgia, why a new system was needed, how the new system works, and then outlines just how we got where we are. Of particular note is the often ignored issue of legislative funding. Here’s a taste with quotes from former GPDSC Director Michael Mears and Emmet Bondurant, GPDSC’s first Council Chairman.

During the 2005 session, the General Assembly routinely approved a $42 million budget for the public defender system for the 2006 fiscal year. Then, in the 2006 session, it took back $5 million from the original allocation.

Mears says legislative leaders told him not to count on receiving all the money generated from the new court fees that were put in place to fund the public defender system. “I was in total shock,” Mears says. “It was like the system was being dismantled almost as soon as it was put together.”

While the amount collected from court fees intended to fund the indigent-defense system has risen every year, the amount allocated to the public defender system has dropped, and lawmakers have dipped into those funds for other purposes.

“The whole idea and the justification for the fees was sold to the public, the Legislature and the bar as a way to finance the state’s contribution,” Bondurant says. “The whole premise was that it was there for indigent defense. It’s dishonest and disingenuous to bait and switch.”

It also looks at the current situation of GPDSC as a legislative target. They attack GPDSC in part because on the ground they’re doing a good job and have effectively killed the death penalty in Georgia since the Capital Defenders took over.

Lots of quotes from friend-to-the-defense Stephen Bright and former State Republican Senator Charles Clay, who introduced GPDSC’s founding legislation. I know I am often quite hard on GPDSC, but it’s because when you read things like this you realize just what potential they have. While in many ways they are a lame duck agency, unable to set their own funding or force the legislature in any way, I stand by my repeated requests that they act as more of a driving voice for indigent defense and defenders.

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