Recent Broward Law Blog Features

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Gideon's Ghost: Inmate Without Lawyer Sues Public Defender

Client Without Lawyer Sues Georgia Public Defender

By Norm Kent

Over the past year, we have seen the financial consequences of an overtaxed state criminal justice system face situations that are unparalleled in American history.

The issue has been as simple as cutbacks in pay, and furloughs for paid employees in both the State Attorney’s office as well as the Public Defender. Still, the most shocking announcements have come when public defenders announced they may refuse court appointments to represent indigent clients. These are bold and gutsy moves.

In Miami-Dade County, the former Public Defender, Bennett Brummer, filed suit to claim that right, arguing that his office is too overcrowded to provide effective representation for more clients. Broward’s Public Defender, Howard Finkelstein, has gone to court and effectively argued that it is not his constitutional duty to provide a public defender for individuals arrested on municipal ordinance violations by the various cities with the county.
Both men are not trying to deny services to clients. Each has a goal of insuring that the quality of services delivered will meet the corresponding and demanding need. Each is making an effective legal point that the state or local government has a duty to provide the resources necessary for their offices to provide a quality defense. Each points out they will have to make better judgements on who should be charged and prosecuted.

Similar issues have been raised with the Office of the Capital Collateral Counsel and the Conflict Counsel. Honorable people are concerned whether effective representation on complex cases can ever again be provided by a system straining at its loins. The issue is exploding in legal communities from South Florida to San Diego. The budget crisis is omnipresent. But what about the clients themselves? What do they do if they have no lawyer to represent them, though they have a constitutional right to one?

Fast forward then to Georgia, where an inmate, accused of murder, has just unearthed some new ground on the same argument. In Atlanta, a man charged with killing a woman has been without an attorney for eight months, and he has now filed a suit against the state’s public defender system, claiming it has failed him.

The lawsuit on behalf of Jamie Ryan Weis underscores budget problems at the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council. Two private attorneys assigned to represent Weis were removed because the council didn’t have the money to pay them, and two public defenders objected because they said they had heavy case loads and not enough resources. They withdrew, but though they were ordered back on the case, but nothing has happened.

The suit states that Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Weis, who is charged in a 2006 slaying. The prosecutors say they are ready to go, as soon as the guy has counsel.

The lawyers filing on his behalf are amongst the most prominent in the Atlanta legal community. The suit, not an understatement, reads that “this is surely an unprecedented deprivation of counsel in modern time.” Gideon's Ghost.

This state, our community, needs a global answer to a cosmic crisis that is not getting better, but only getting worse. Start with a criminal justice commission which looks at where we are, where we are going, and where we have been. Maybe those answers will make us realize our litigious and 'modern' society is overincarcerating our own people.

What is certain is the answers go beyond the exigencies of the moment. We need to look past the next case, the extra courtroom, and the backed up dockets. We need permanent solutions and not temporary fixes, or we continue to drown in the sewage of a flood we created. And in Broward County, with a structure that is erupting, that is not just an allegorical metaphor.

No comments:

Post a Comment