Is Georgia’s indigent defense system broken? The answer may come after next Thursday, when the case of Maurice Flournoy, et al. v. The State of Georgia, et al. goes to trial in the Superior Court of Fulton County. Flournoy is significant because the case has been brought as a class action lawsuit challenging the effectiveness Georgia’s Public Defender system.
The case combines the claims of over 200 defendants who were convicted at trial. Many of you will stop reading at this point, don’t take your thinking hat off just yet. Many of these defendants hit a brick wall when appealing the convictions–you have to get a new lawyer to argue ineffective assistance of counsel. These aren’t white collar criminals. They are indigent from the start. There is no option of going out and retaining a lawyer for the appeals process. It falls to the Public Defenders to handle the appeals process. And because the “ineffective” lawyer argument requires one to use a different lawyer, the appealing defendant gets handed off to another Public Defender.
Therein lies the problem at the heart of this case. The system is understaffed and underfunded. And by no fault of the Public Defender system. A few years ago, the Georgia legislature created the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, or GPDSC, to function as an agency to oversee the administration of the various Public Defender offices. But the agency has never been adequately funded and in recent years has faced severe budget cuts. The state has statutorily obligated the GPDSC to aid indigent defendants in this position, yet they refuse to provide the necessary funding. It’s like a giant game of hide the ball; it’s easy to win when you have the ball.
If you are going to create a system, then fund it. Press Release below the fold.
Trial Seeks Permanent Fix to Broken System for
Providing Hundreds of Indigent Persons Lawyers
WHAT: Superior Court Judge Jerry W. Baxter will hold a trial in Maurice Flournoy, et al. v. The State of Georgia, et al., a class-action lawsuit that seeks to secure adequate representation for indigent persons in Georgia who have been convicted of offenses carrying a term of incarceration and who are currently without effective legal representation.
WHEN: Thursday, December 15, 2011 at 9:30 am.
WHERE: Fulton County Superior Court, 185 Central Avenue, SW; Justice Center Tower Suite T-4855/Courtroom 4D; Atlanta, Georgia 30303
WHY: Flournoy was filed in December 2009 on behalf of nearly 200 convicted indigent defendants who did not have lawyers to represent them in their appeals. Many of these individuals could not be represented by their trial lawyer on appeal because they wished to raise claims of ineffective assistance of counsel and, under Georgia law, are entitled to a new lawyer to do so. Severe budget cuts in the past three years have rendered the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council (GPDSC) inadequately staffed and funded to meet its constitutional and statutory obligation to provide effective counsel to indigent defendants in this position.
On February 23, 2010, Judge Baxter certified a class of indigent defendants in Georgia who had been convicted of an offense carrying a term of incarceration and who had requested or would request, yet be denied, conflict-free counsel to represent them in their appeals. The Court also required the State to provide effective and conflict-free representation for appeals to all class members within 30 days of their request for new counsel.
Since the filing of the lawsuit, the class size has grown from nearly 200 to more than 800 indigent defendants, but the resources dedicated to their representation have not kept pace. As a result, the State has created an unacceptable risk that the right of hundreds of indigent defendants across the state to effective and conflict-free counsel will be violated.
In December 2011, lawyers from the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) and Bondurant, Mixson and Elmore, LLP will argue that the State must make critical systemic improvements to ensure that the rights of indigent defendants are adequately protected, including the provision of counsel with sufficient time and resources to provide effective representation.
CONTACT: Kathryn Hamoudah, 404/688-1202 office, 404/819-4233 cell, [email protected]