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Crawford leaves public defender post for judgeship
By CLAY DUDA
Robert “Mack” Crawford was named a Griffin Circuit Superior Court judge last week despite a blistering eight-page critique of his management of Georgia’s system of public defenders.
Gov. Sonny Perdue chose Crawford, a former state legislator, on Wednesday from six names submitted by the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission. He will fill one of two open judgeships in the Griffin Circuit. State Court Judge and former District Attorney Fletcher Sams landed the other post.
Crawford’s file contains recommendations from a variety of sources. But, as the Fulton County Daily Report noted last month, criminal defense attorney Stephen Bright also wrote the commission, describing Crawford’s three years as director of the Georgia Public Defender Standards Council as an “unmitigated disaster”:
“He has neglected his duties and mismanaged the agency, leaving hundreds, if not thousands of clients without representation, leaving others without representation for inordinate periods of time, and still others with inconsistent, token or subpar representation.”
From September 2008 to April 2009, Bright wrote, Crawford abandoned hundreds of defendants without legal representation when he fired their state-paid attorneys as a cost-cutting measure.
Complaints about Crawford’s performance were not isolated to Bright’s letter. Accompanying his critique was a March 2009 complaint from Don Oliver, a member of the public defenders council, to then-state Sen. Eric Johnson. Both Bright and Oliver separately documented Crawford’s inability or refusal to perform many of the necessary functions of the council’s director, with Bright also referencing Oliver’s earlier concerns.
Bright, president of the Southern Center for Human Rights, complained that Crawford:
- Attempted to fire the entire Metro Conflict Defenders Office – a staff of 21, representing 1,836 clients – “without consulting other knowledgeable people in the affected circuits and without making any arrangements for how the clients would be represented.” (He backed off only after a lawsuit was filed to enjoin his action.)
- Expressed disdain for student lawyers who attempted to apply what they learned in a GPDSC “honors program” in court.
- Spurred “How to collect your fee from GPDSC” seminars by the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers due to nonpayment or underpayment of attorneys hired by his agency,
- Pressured public defenders to represent clients despite conflicting interests, and
- Practiced “absurdly haphazard” hiring processes:
“Mr. Crawford has never announced that a position is open, sought applicants from throughout the country – or even the state – and then … conducted interviews to hire the most qualified candidate. Instead, it appears that people were hired on whim.”
Oliver’s letter alleged that Crawford:
- “Not only failed to assist, but in fact hindered or prevented presentation of a proper budget” necessary for the council to provide the bare-bones legal representation required by law in 2008 and 2009 – a task completed in 3 days when a qualified staff member was finally allowed to undertake the task.
- Got lawmakers to make his job independent from the council’s oversight on the last day of the 2008 legislative session, and lobbied for the abolition of the Council in 2009.
Crawford landed the council directorship in 2007 based on “the wishes of the Governor [Sonny Perdue] and some legislative leaders by accepting what amounted to their recommendation for a political appointment for their hand picked director who had almost no experience in the field of criminal defense,” Oliver wrote. The council hired him primarily for his 15 years of political experience serving in the state House of Representatives, he wrote.
“Mr. Crawford’s failure to master the one area of the law for which he has been responsible for the last three years is not a positive indicator of his potential as a judge. He appears to lack the interest to explore and understand new areas of the law. … As a Superior Court judge, he would be called upon to make determinations in many areas of the law. There is no reason to believe that when a case presents new legal issues, he will do the thorough research and analysis that a judge should do.”
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