Across Georgia, poor people accused of crimes are being abandoned by their lawyers because there is no money to pay their legal fees, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. There are 10 death-penalty cases proceeding to trial with $1.1 million in expected billings. But there is no money to pay for those cases, either.
The Georgia Public Defender Standards Council's main problem is its inability to pay bills for “conflict” cases. These are multi-defendant cases in which a state-salaried public defender can represent only one person because of conflict-of-interest rules. Private attorneys are hired to represent the co-defendants. Many bills from these cases, which number in the thousands statewide, have not been paid because of budget shortfalls. In response, exasperated lawyers are asking to withdraw from cases, and judges are letting them do it. Making matters worse, no one is telling the council about these defendants who are now lawyerless.