ATLANTA — Some Georgia death row inmates could lose their attorneys amid budget cuts that could potentially halt appeals hearings and even delay executions.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Sunday that there are two key reasons for the funding lapse: The decline in the real estate market and flagging support from Georgia lawmakers.
To make up for the gap, the Georgia Appellate Practice and Educational Resource Center is poised to ask for more funding this legislative session to keep it from having to lay off attorneys and investigators. The 12-person nonprofit in Atlanta represents or helps to represent about 90 percent of the inmates on Georgia’s death row.
The center’s supporters warn that the funding crisis could threaten Georgia’s capital punishment system. Atlanta attorney Rob Remar, the chairman of the center’s board, warns the system could “grind to a halt” if the center loses more employees.
“If the resource center loses more employees, it will have to take fewer cases, and there will be some inmates who are unrepresented,” he said.
State lawmakers say they are aware of the problem.
“My feeling is we can be penny wise or pound foolish, because if we don’t pay enough on the front end, we’ll pay more in the back end,” Republican state Rep. Jay Powell told the newspaper. “If appeals aren’t properly handled, the cases drag on.”
The center is suffering from a double punch in the down economy.
The Georgia Bar foundation has long provided grant money to the center through funding from interest-bearing accounts set up by lawyers to handle real estate transactions and other deals. But the economic downturn means the foundation’s collections have plummeted. As a result, the foundation’s funding to the center dropped from more than $750,000 three years ago to nothing this year. The Legislature had long been providing the resource center with $800,000 each year, but lawmakers cut the center’s funding by more than $200,000 beginning in 2008.
Brian Kammer, the center’s executive director, said he’ll ask lawmakers to restore its funding to $800,000. He also said he’s spent time writing grant proposals for additional funding and that he’s sought private donations.
The center’s seven lawyers and four investigators take over cases after a death row inmate’s direct appeals are completed. Georgia is the only state in the nation that doesn’t guarantee counsel for death row inmates pursuing their habeas appeals as the result of a 1999 ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court.