ATLANTA, GEORGIA – This afternoon, a Fulton County Superior Court Judge ordered the Georgia Public Defenders Standards Council to appoint lawyers for inmates seeking to file appeals within 30 days. Judge Jerry W. Baxter granted a mandamus and class certification in Maurice Flournoy, et al. v. The State of Georgia, et al., a class action lawsuit brought against the state to secure lawyers for indigent persons in Georgia who have been convicted of offenses carrying a term of incarceration and who are currently without legal representation. Lawyers from Bondurant, Mixson and Elmore, L.L.P.; Garland, Samuel and Loeb, P.C.; Moraitakis, Kushel, and Pearson, LLP; Martin Brothers, P.C.; and the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) have argued that the Constitution and state law mandate that indigent defendants in Georgia be provided with counsel at every stage of a criminal prosecution, including the motion for new trial and direct appeal.
Judge Baxter stated in his ruling that, "Even if the GPDSC had some discretion in the timing of appointment of counsel, however, it cannot wait months or years after receiving a request for new counsel simply because it has not yet received a transcript or case file or it is otherwise inconvenient to appoint counsel. For one, an indigent defendant cannot be penalized for exercising the right to conflict-free counsel. Memories fade and witnesses move away. An indigent defendant would be placed at a material disadvantage if he were forced to wait months or years before an appellate lawyer could begin investigating the grounds for the indigent defendant's motion for new trial or appeal."
Gerry Weber, senior attorney at SCHR commended today’s order, “"Judge Baxter's thoughtful order gives us hope that the State will honor its duty to provide lawyers for criminal appeals.” Weber continues, “It's sad that the state's own lawyers saw this 'crises' years ago, and no one has stepped up to the plate to fix it."
At the time of filing, two of the named plaintiffs had been incarcerated for more than three years and did not have counsel to represent them in their motion for new trial proceedings; others had been denied appellate counsel for at least a year. One of the named plaintiffs had been without appellate counsel for almost a year and, as of May 2009, he had been informed by Georgia Public Defenders Standards Council (GPDSC) that he was number 105 on the Council’s backlog list. At the time of filing, there were nearly 200 people without representation on appeal.
"Today's order is a victory for our criminal justice system and a strong statement that our public officials must meet their constitutional obligation to provide adequate indigent defense," states Michael Caplan, attorney for the Plaintiffs from Bondurant, Mixson and Elmore, L.L.P.
This is SCHR’s fourth bout of litigation in response to Georgia’s current indigent defense crisis. In June 2008, Crawford attempted to close the Metro Conflict Defender office. However, enforcing the constitutional rights of people facing criminal charges without an attorney, SCHR stopped the closure of the well-regarded office. In April 2009, a lawsuit was filed by SCHR in the Northern Judicial Circuit where over 300 people facing criminal charges had no lawyer because the state failed to provide enough lawyers to represent defendants in conflict cases. This case is ongoing. And on November 10, 2009, SCHR presented arguments to the Georgia Supreme Court on behalf of Jamie Weis, a mentally ill man who was denied funding for legal representation to represent him in his capital case for over two years. Similar failures to fund representation for periods of two or three years have occurred in other cases in which people face the death penalty.
|Judge Baxter's Order on Class Certification and Mandamus||4.44 MB|