Deal signs public defender bill

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ATLANTA --- Gov. Nathan Deal signed a slate of legislative measures Tuesday that promise to reshape the way law is practiced in Georgia.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed three measures to reshape how law is practiced in Georgia.   Associated Press
Associated Press
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed three measures to reshape how law is practiced in Georgia.

Two of the measures create a new system for compiling juror lists and rewrite the state's outdated evidence rules, hard-fought legislative victories for the state's legal community, which argued that they were crucial to a modern judiciary.

The third overhauls the leadership of the state's flagship public defender system, giving the governor and legislative leaders more say over how the network is run.

Deal did not take questions during a brief ceremony at the State Bar of Georgia, but he signaled relief at the new evidence rules. While a state senator, Deal was one of the chief supporters of the measure to modernize the complicated Georgia evidence rules by adopting some federal guidelines and getting rid of out-of-date provisions in the 148-year-old law.

"It's been a long journey," he said.

Many leaders of the state's legal community have been pushing for the overhaul for 20 years, and they celebrated the bill's signing with drinks and dessert at the state Bar's lobby.

Though the measure was adopted overwhelmingly by legislators this year, it faced opposition for decades from attorneys who resisted the change because they were comfortable with the current rules.

The State Bar's leaders also hailed the passage of the jury legislation, which creates a new statewide database of eligible jurors based on voter registration, driver's licenses and other records.

Supporters say the system is better suited to replace a "forced balancing" system that relies on outdated information on the gender and race of jurors.

The third measure would replace the current 15-member Georgia Public Defender Standards Council with nine new appointees tapped by the governor, the lieutenant governor and the House speaker. It also gives the director more power over whom the system hires.

That shakeup comes after years of lagging support from conservative lawmakers and infighting with the council's sometimes cantankerous board, which had threatened to sue the state over funding woes and urged a special legislative session for more money.

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