Atlanta’s chief judge strongly criticized the closure of a metro defender office, saying it was poorly planned and will create a legal crisis for about 1,850 poor people charged with crimes, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “This action by the state is irresponsible – any change in the current system should be carefully planned and coordinated so that there is no break in indigent defense representation,” said Doris Downs, chief judge of Fulton Superior Court. Closing the office abruptly will create a “legal crisis” because the state cannot prosecute indigents without providing them adequate legal representation, she said.
Downs was reacting to the decision by the Georgia Public Defender Standard Council to close down the 21-member Metro Conflict Defender Office at the end of the month. Fulton County’s public defender’s office has 98 attorneys – the smaller Metro Conflict Defender Office gets involved in multidefendant cases, when a public defender can represent only one person charged because of conflict-of-interest rules. The closure was announced by Mack Crawford, a former legislator who is now director of the statewide defender system. He said the cuts were needed because the council, which spent $9 million last year on “conflict” cases statewide, got only $5.4 million from the legislature for the year that begins July 1.