Judge says traffic trials were delayed

While Richmond County State Court solicitors neglected to set cases for timely trial and the chief judge should have provided more attention and direction to the process, it is yet to be determined if these facts will contribute to the dismissal of four traffic cases.

Tuesday in Richmond County State Court, Chief Judge Gayle Hamrick heard evidence in the cases of four people cited or arrested for traffic offenses but not scheduled for trial until 15 to 38 months later. Attorneys with the public defender office contend the charges should be dismissed because the constitutional right to a speedy trial was violated in each case.

At the conclusion of Tuesday's hearing, Judge Hamrick took the motions under advisement and said he will issue a decision shortly.

Before the hearing, attorneys from the public defender and solicitor offices met with Judge Hamrick privately to work out stipulations. Both sides agreed that the judges set the weeks and days for trials and hearings but turn over actual case management to the solicitor's office.

Part of Tuesday's stipulations included the admission that the judges should have taken an active role in case management and that the solicitor neglected the timely shepherding of cases. Under the state's Uniform State Court rules, judges are supposed to be assigned randomly to cases and bear the responsibility of seeing to the disposition of each.

Judge Hamrick started the hearing Tuesday with the premise that the defense had already proven part of the cases: that there was an excessive delay in each and that the state was responsible. The defense still had the burden of proving that each defendant had asserted the right to a speedy trial, the defense was hampered in each case and the defendant harmed because of the delay in getting to trial.

Vernon C. Harris II testified that he has been unable to get a permanent job with better pay and benefits because of the pending charges against him.

Charles D. Lloyd testified that he has had to move and take a $200 to $300 drop in weekly income because he cannot drive until he can get his driver's license renewed -- a process he cannot start until the Richmond County case is closed.

Doreen Gilbert testified that she had forgotten about her October 2007 traffic citation until she received court papers informing her that she was set for trial this spring .

Fred A. Dunn testified that he didn't know anything about two pending traffic charges and a bench warrant for his arrest that dated back to 2005. Someone else used his name, Mr. Dunn said.

Assistant Public Defender Kate Mason argued in closing that each defendant stood on the constitutional right to a speedy trial after each pleaded not guilty and demanded a trial. The lengthy delay has led to lost wages, the costs associated with pending litigation, the inability to raise an effective alibi defense after the passage of so much time and the worry and stress of pending charges that carry potential jail sentences, she said.

Chief Assistant Solicitor P.J. Campanaro argued in closing that none of the defendants had filed the specific motion that requested a speedy trial within two terms of court and that one -- Mr. Harris -- had signed a document that waived his right to a speedy trial. None of the defendants has been jailed while awaiting trial, she said. And they could only speculate about the loss of income and costs associated with the pending charges, Ms. Campanaro said.

Reach Sandy Hodson at (706) 823-3226 or sandy.hodson@augustachronicle.com.