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Fulton judge orders state to hire lawyers for indigents
A judge Tuesday gave Gov. Sonny Perdue 30 days to hire attorneys for convicted felons who have gone as long as three years without them.
The state is constitutionally required to provide the lawyers even if the responsible agency, the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council, doesn’t have the cash to do so, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry W. Baxter ruled.
Approximately 187 inmates had been denied lawyers to handle their appeals for periods ranging from one to three and a half years. Those numbers climbed even as the state slashed the number of staff attorneys handling such cases by half.
Earlier this month, trying to render the lawsuit moot, the Public Defenders Council hired contract attorneys for many of the defendants at a flat rate of $1,200 to $1,500. Based on an average workload of 140 hours, the judge calculated those attorneys would earn $8.57 to $10.71 an hour.
Baxter wrote that the state’s funding problems did not affect the defendants’ right to an attorney.
In sum, the United States Constitution, the Georgia Constitution, and the Indigent Defense Act of 2003 — and not the policies of the GPDSC — provide the rules of law that govern this case.
Lawyers for indigent defendants are funded with special fees added to court cases for that purpose. State lawmakers in recent years have withheld a portion of that money and used it for other purposes.
The judge also granted class-action status to the lawsuit and ordered Perdue to provide attorneys for any other indigent defendant seeking to appeal.