Settement Reached In Georgia’s Indigent Defense Case

Just in to Peach Pundit, we have word that the State of Georgia and the Southern Center for Human Rights have reached a settlement in the lawsuit regarding how Georgia provides counsel for those who cannot afford it. The SCHR has forwarded the following release, which is the level of detail we have at this time and is followed by a statement from Travis Sakrison, the Executive Director of the GPDSC:

ATLANTA, GEORGIA, December 16, 2011 – Today, a class-action challenge to the fairness of the state’s indigent defense system that was brought on behalf of nearly 200 people convicted of offenses who were without counsel has reached a settlement.

To guarantee the right to adequate representation for poor people in Georgia who have been convicted of offenses carrying a term of incarceration and who are currently without effective legal counsel, the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) and co-counsel Bondurant, Mixson and Elmore, L.L.P. (BME, LLP), entered a Consent Order with the Georgia Public Defenders Standards Council (GPDSC).

“We believe this is an important and significant step towards making Georgia’s indigent defense system capable of providing our clients with the representation to which they are entitled,” said SCHR Attorney Lauren Sudeall Lucas.

SCHR and BME, LLP filed Flournoy v. State of Georgia in December 2009, to challenge the state’s failure to provide counsel for nearly 200 convicted indigent defendants who did not have lawyers to represent them in their appeals. At the time the lawsuit was filed, severe budget cuts rendered the GPDSC inadequately staffed and funded to meet the constitutional obligations to provide counsel to those convicted of crimes.

As a result of severe budget cuts, GPDSC’s Appellate Division was staffed by only two full-time and one part-time staff attorneys. The funding available for contracted private counsel who could also take on such appeals had also been cut in half from $336,000 in Fiscal Year 2009 to $160,000 for Fiscal Year 2010. Since the filing of the lawsuit, the class size grew from nearly 200 to more than 800 indigent defendants, but the resources dedicated to their representation did not keep pace.

One of the remedies included in today’s settlement is the requirement that GPDSC hire seven additional staff attorneys to staff the Appellate Division and implement a system that monitors the caseloads carried by individual lawyers.

The agreement also creates a specific process by which contract attorneys and staff attorneys will be hired – including a thorough review of their qualifications, which must meet certain minimum requirements. And it changes the contracts under which private attorneys are hired by providing them the resources and incentives to effectively represent their clients.

Additionally, GPDSC must implement a mechanism for oversight and accountability of the qualified private attorneys with whom they contract for services. “We are very pleased that the state has agreed to make several significant reforms to its indigent defense system that will protect the constitutional rights of the accused.

The improvements guaranteed by the consent decree will lead to a fairer and more accurate criminal justice system,” said Michael Caplan, attorney for the Plaintiffs from Bondurant, Mixson and Elmore, L.L.P. The Flournoy matter is the latest in a series of lawsuits filed by SCHR in response to the State’s continued refusal to fully fund the State’s indigent defense system.

In 2010, SCHR settled Cantwell v. Crawford, another lawsuit against GPDSC on behalf of hundreds of poor people accused of crimes in Georgia’s Northern Judicial Circuit who were without counsel. In 2008, Former GPDSC Director Mack Crawford attempted to close the Metro Conflict Defender office and reversed the decision only after SCHR filed suit.

Statement from the GPDSC:

Today,the Council unanimously approved the proposed settlement in Flournoy v. GPDSC, et al. The terms are not yet public, but will be made available when the settlement is final.

“In its current form, we believe that the proposed settlement is a reasonable resolution to this issue for the clients GPDSC represents and the state of Georgia. The issues claimed in the suit have been addressed by processes already in place. The term of the Consent Decree mirrored much of what GPDSC has already implemented and aligns with
our future plans, making a settlement possible.”

20 comments

  1. Cassandra says:

    Somebody at PeachPundit needs to be the Healthcare Guru. PP ought to explore the healthcare pressing issues such as: Medicare/caid, spiraling healthcare costs, fantastic new therapies (and how expensive they are), PPACA, healthcare exchanges, and how we take care of those souls who have nothing and are sick.

    Oh, too busy? I know a volunteer.

    We can make a difference.

    • saltycracker says:

      A study of indigent healthcare issues, fraud, public costs and the cottage industry around them would be interesting.

    • KD_fiscal conservative says:

      Konop and I have tried to explain the problems with medicare/caid, healthcare costs, exchanges and other health policy topics, many, many times. Unfortunately most people believe what they want, and have no desire to thoughtfully understand the situation while putting ideological bias behind….Actually, that is part of the reason we are in this whole health care spending crisis to begin with.

  2. eehrhart says:

    Settlement is going to be in the realm of 6 million taxpayer dollars paid to Bondurant and SCHR. This is the latest information. At the very least these dollars should be voted upon as an appropriation by the elected legislative branches who have responsibility for appropriation matters. At the very very least they should be publicly transparent and disclosed and vetted against market pricing.
    Nice work if you can get it this suing of the State of Ga.
    My information is that we are going to see a 20 million dollar ask for this indigent defense crowd in the next session.

    Is this really what the majority of Georgians want their tax dollars spent on ?

    It may be, but lets shine a light on it just in case.

    • Cassandra says:

      Rep. Ehrhart,

      Thank you for your insight. I agree Georgians deserve to have a clear understanding of the indigent defense issue, and ‘sunlight’ will help to insure that process.

      I am pleased that Gov. Deal is calling for a sweeping review of crime and punishment in Georgia, as the two issues are inextricably linked, I close with this prayer:

      “Dear St. Thomas More, in your earthly life, you were a brilliant lawyer and a just and compassionate judge. You attended to the smallest details of your legal duties with the greatest care, and you were unflagging in your pursuit of justice tempered by mercy. Through your prayers and intercession, obtain for me the grace to overcome every temptation to laxity, arrogance, and rash judgment in my (legal) duties. Our Father… Hail Mary… Glory Be… Glorious St. Thomas More…”

    • SmyrnaModerate says:

      if the state of Georgia would fulfill its constitutional duty to provide indigent criminals with basic legal representation then there wouldn’t be nice work in suing the state of Georgia. If the state didn’t do anything wrong then it shouldn’t be settling. this isn’t some nuisance payout of a few thousand dollars to save the costs of litigation. whether the people want to or not or like it or not, the 6th amendment exists just as much as the 1st or 2nd or [insert your favorite amendment here]

      • saltycracker says:

        The Sixth has been expanded several times by the Supremes and the legal system is a bit more complex and exploited than in the past. The paying folks are balking from so many transfer demands on their life, liberty & pursuit of happiness.

          • saltycracker says:

            Do you think something is systemically wrong when millions are spent on a straight forward case like the Brian Nichols one ?

            A few cuts from from one article:

            NYT By BRENDA GOODMAN
            Published: March 22, 2007
            ATLANTA, March 21 — A high-profile multiple-murder case has drained the budget of Georgia’s public defender system and brought all but a handful of its 72 capital cases to a standstill.

            In Georgia, State Senator Preston W. Smith, a Republican and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he thought the high price of Mr. Nichols’s defense was by design rather than necessity.

            “You’re building in an incentive to destroy the death penalty by building in a financial nuclear weapon,” Mr. Smith said. “There’s one cynical view that says this isn’t at all by accident.”

            Nonetheless, Senator Smith has accused the Office of the Capital Defender of spending money like “drunken sailors on shore leave” to provide an “O. J. Simpson-style defense, all on the taxpayer’s dime.” He has supported a resolution that would re-evaluate the way the public defender system operates.

            “We’ve created a system that has no fiscal accountability,” Mr. Smith said. “There’s only an incentive to spend as much as you can in a capital case. It’s almost unethical not to.”

  3. eehrhart says:

    In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

    Please enlighten me as to the provisions of the above 6th amendment which require millions of taxpayer dollars be spent on accused criminals ?

    I actually prefer the provisions of “Speedy Trials” Lets cut the Habeus proceedings in these cases by a factor of 10 and then we would truly be cognizant of the sixth you so love.

    • Dash Riptide says:

      You can wish all you want, but putting someone to death will always be a very expensive proposition. Starving indigent defense won’t change that. It will only prompt a federal judge to take it over.

      And habeas is for the most part a post-trial affair, so logic fail.

  4. eehrhart says:

    Unlike most on the left I am not willing to cede tyrannical authority to Federal Judges. They are to interpret the law on a constitutional basis. They were never given the authority to appropriate the funds of the people PERIOD.
    YOU can wish and hope and pray for activist judges, who by fiat and lack of courage on the part of legislative branch elected s, take such authority, but it is coming to an end as people finally catch on to the racket.
    Millions to the legal profession ceded to them by other lawyers on the bench is truly the definition of a conflict of interest.
    “Assistance of Counsel” does not mean expensive no matter how much you wish it did.

  5. saltycracker says:

    Budget addition:
    Just read where the Georgia Commission on Interpreters (20 judges, lawyers, citizens that meet quarterly) needs more funding for more interpreters in civil cases.

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