Almost one in five of pending Georgia capital cases is stalled because there is no money to pay for the defense of the accused, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Judges and prosecutors are exasperated. Defense attorneys are filing contempt motions and asking to withdraw from their cases. “It's a constitutional crisis,” Forsyth Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Bagley said at a hearing for a man accused of a murderous rampage at a farmhouse three years ago.
Not only is a defendant's right to a fair and speedy trial compromised, Bagley said, but the community isn't getting resolution, either. In the General Assembly's final days, it looked as if the money was on its way. The House put $1.1 million in the state Public Defender Standards Council's budget for the capital cases. The Senate cut it out. The money would have paid for cases defended by private lawyers who bill the state at $95 an hour. Most are multidefendant cases where state-salaried defenders cannot represent one person because of conflict-of-interest rules. Lawmakers “went above and beyond” providing funds to the defender system at a time state agencies suffered deep budget cuts to offset declining tax revenue, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill said last week. While funding for capital cases was cut, it was restored for other critical parts of the program, he said.